When Christ came to earth He came through the Jewish line. The Bible emphatically declares Him to be the seed of Abraham and from David’s loins. His divine appointment by the Heavenly Father was that He would come to earth as a Jew and spend His life among the Jews of Palestine. He declared that salvation was of the Jew.
On rare occasions there were Gentiles with whom Jesus briefly associated: the Syrophenician woman, a Samaritan woman, and the Greeks who came to see Him. In John 10:16, He told the Jewish leaders, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” This was a most unusual statement: “other sheep I have,” (in the present tense) though they had not come to know Him yet.
Who were these other sheep? These other sheep were the Gentiles. They were to be one with the Jews having one shepherd. Note the words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:14–18:
For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
Christ made of the two, Jew and Gentile, one new man. For in Christ neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, bond or free—it is one flock.
The Wine in Old Wineskins
There is a most important truth that Jesus gave in Luke 5 that must be carefully understood before we further our view of the Christ, the Scriptures, and theological systems.
And he spake also a parable unto them; no man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better (vv. 36–39).
When Christ came preaching His doctrine, it was as new, fresh wine. The great danger with this new wine was to have it poured into old wine skins. In other words, Christ warned of the danger of taking His teaching and pouring it into the old wineskin of Judaism. It is important to declare that Christianity was not a renewing of Judaism; it was never to become a part of Judaism. Judaism was a religious system in apostasy; apostasy cannot be revived or renewed. Furthermore, Christianity was never to be a final form of Judaism. It was its own entity; therefore, it could not be poured into that which was old and apostate.
At the conclusion of this parable, Christ gave a sobering observation: No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, the old is better. Here, Jesus revealed that the tendency of man is not to want to leave an old system of thinking. The Jews had made a dedication to tradition, and it would be very problematic for them to change to another wine and even to another wineskin. The new wine in this context would be Christ.
Jesus’ “one flock” concept to the Jew became difficult for them to “theologically” comprehend in the days of the early Church. The Jew thought that in order for a Gentile to come to know God he had to become a proselyte to Judaism; Gentile ways of living would now have to become the ways of a Jew. For Gentile men the Jew required circumcision.
Since the Church began among Jewish believers, how would a person become a follower of Christ? Would he have to become a Jew first? Would he become a Christian by way of becoming a Jewish proselyte? In the Book of Acts it is evident that this was a hard adjustment to resolve for many of the Jewish brethren. There was this subtle, underlying belief that a Gentile conversion was somewhat inferior to that of a Jewish conversion. These brethren truly had a problem with Christ’s “one flock” view of Jew and Gentile.
In Acts 6, we initially read of the friction between the Grecian widows (Jews living in a Gentile environment) and the Hebrew widows. Although these were Jewish widows, to an orthodox Jew even the taint of a Gentile concept affected the pure Jew. In Acts 10, God had to prepare Peter for the bringing of the full gospel to a Gentile named Cornelius. When God showed Peter the unclean animals and told him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat,” his response was “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.” God responded, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (10:15b). Clearly Peter had a problem with this matter of the Gentiles.
Later in Acts 11 when Peter returned to Jerusalem and gave a report about going to the Gentiles, “they that were of the circumcision contended with him, saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them” (11:2, 3). This rising theological system of Jewish circumcision appears again in Acts 15 within the Church: “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Act 15:1). The Judaizers were those who expounded this new system in Church history. These mixed the human Jewish thinking with revelation of Scripture. They had made their “human” system of salvation equal with the Scriptures.
How sad that a number of good men in the New Testament never were delivered from the old wine and the old wineskin! The failures continue even in the aftermath of the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15:
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles; but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel [not the truth of the theological system], I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? (Gal. 2:11–14)
Oh, the dissimulation of this theological system, and how it affected even some of the best men!
As late as Acts 21 when the apostle Paul (the only one fully delivered from the theological system of Judaism) came to Jerusalem in the aftermath of his third missionary journey, he confronted the system once again:
And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe: and they are all zealous of the law” (21:19, 20).
Here, James, the half-brother of the Lord, was still caught in the old wineskin, endeavoring to pour the new wine of Christianity into the old wineskin of Judaism. He proclaimed that although Paul had given the gospel to Gentiles who had believed, the Jews who came to Christ were “all zealous of the law,” implying that they were more dedicated Christians. Yes, how sad that some never were delivered from their humanly-devised “theological system” by giving their allegiance fully unto Christ and the true gospel. In John 17 Christ wanted all His disciples to be one; Christ desired this not only for those at that time but also those that would believe in the future (17:20, 21).
The Powers of Theological Systems in Church History
As the history of Christianity began to unfold, heresies continued to arise from which Scripture commanded men to separate. First there were the Judaizers and “disorderly brethren.” Later there was the fourth-century heresy of Arianism that denounced the deity of Christ. Athanasius, God’s man who stood in allegiance with the Scriptures and its Christ, pressed not only for the denunciation of Arius but also for his exile. In the aftermath of the Council of Nicea (a.d. 325), splintered groups began to rise up, some of the true remnant, others of great heresies. By the end of that century the great controversy between Pelagius and Augustine over the doctrine of man’s depravity arose.
The rise of Roman Catholic domination gave evidence to the power it universally held over people through their presentation of the doctrine of Christ and the Scriptures. The traditions of the Church fathers now held sway over what the Scriptures declared. Thus another system arose from religious man under the guise of “antiquity” or traditions which brought a binding to the true Christ and to the Scriptures.
The rise of the Protestant Reformation brought a biblical break with Rome through a formal protest against its heresies. Two great themes stood forth within the Reformation: (1) The preaching of Christ, and (2) the preaching of the Scriptures. The high pulpit now took the place of the high altar. Christ alone! Scriptures alone! From these two thematic declarations all other doctrinal beliefs for the Christian would flow.
These important doctrines included the precious doctrine of grace as a monergistic truth. The Reformation brought to reality the right of man to serve God and believe in Him according to the dictates of his conscience. Such a man, armed with the Word of God, could stand up against councils and popes. This was the cry of that liberating hour! Such liberation of conscience gave Luther the right to break with Rome; but it also gave Zwingli the right to break from Luther; it gave liberty of conscience to Carlstadt, John Calvin, and later Jacobus Arminius.
From one perspective the Reformation was the providential movement to break away from Rome allowing every individual to believe what he wanted to believe in the light of the Scriptures. At the same time, it also became a weapon in the hands of the Devil to divide the Body of Christ on earth into schisms and divisions. How does a man handle such a liberty; how does he view it in the light of Christ’s body? This new liberty brought the birth of myriads of Protestant and Reformation theological systems; such systems may be called “bodies of divinity.”
Of all the major methods of studying theology, perhaps the most subjective is Dogmatic Theology. Dogmatic Theology is the study of theology from the perspective of men’s councils, dogmas, and creeds. It is what they have come to believe that the Scriptures teach. Although Dogmatic Theology is a profitable study, we can never make its conclusion equal with Scripture. This is one of many reasons why we are against the theological system of Rome—such a system believes that the men of the Church were infallible in their interpretation and that their collective writings are co-equal with Scripture. When discrepancies between the Scripture and their system appeared, they embraced their system.
We must always remember that all theological systems were produced by men who were confronting their generation and were endeavoring to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling,” just as we all are endeavoring to do by God’s help. Although the liberty of the conscience before God is a wonderful thing, we must be careful not to make “infallible” any human system of thought derived from this liberty.
One of the great deficits that has come from theological systems is the friction and division it has caused within the Body of Christ. According to the writing of Paul to the Corinthians, such friction and division are a great sign of carnality within the life of a man or within a church. At the outset of the first epistle of the apostle to the Corinthians he declares the following:
Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel; not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect (1:12–17).
Theological systems began very early in the minds of the people within the Church. Is it biblical to call ourselves after the name of a system of thought? Did Arminius die for us? Are we baptized in the name of Calvin? This is the sad commentary of fallen Christianity; we have succumbed to that which is inferior to the gospel of Christ and His gospel alone. It may be said that Paul called it his gospel (Rom. 2:16), but it was so called because it was given to him by revelation and his writings were part of the Holy Scripture (2 Pet. 3:15, 16). This cannot be said of anyone since the Canon of the New Testament has been completed! To call oneself after a human name apart from Christ is going to that which is inferior and beneath the gospel of that Christ. Although some men may have been brilliant and contributed greatly to understanding truth, all are eclipsed when it comes to Christ. All other writings must sink into the shadows when it comes to the Scriptures. Our term Fundamentalist is not a man’s name; it is a term that calls us back to the Scriptures.
Men have always grappled over the paradoxes of the Scriptures—the two seemingly opposites molded into one principle that bring about the balance of both truths. Luther spoke of “justification by faith” in the understanding that the Lamb’s blood must be applied, while Calvin’s viewpoint of sovereignty placed the emphasis upon the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The Bible clarifies both truths: In Exodus 12, not only must the Lamb be slain but also its blood must be applied in faith upon the door (Heb. 11:28 protects this part of the paradox). Calvin might emphasize in Acts 27:22, 25: “For there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. . . . Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.” In contrast, Arminius will press 27:31, “Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.”
Sadly, the systems have warred to divide the paradox by taking one side or the other and thus destroying the Bible’s teaching. This is the sad reality of many controversies in Church history where a paradoxical truth was grappled with; often to prove one point, one was pressured to choose “either/or.” Confessions were born from the hearts of men and followed by modifications; this is true with Calvin’s many revisions of his youthful writing The Institutes (at age 26) presented to the King of France in behalf of the Huguenots. Some will take one revision; others give their allegiance to another revision. As history unfolds, each generation gives their confession with modification. Today, some will even declare that Calvin’s work is the greatest embodiment of truth “compiled by man,” while others will go so far as to project it as synonymous with the gospel.
Perhaps it is true that every man “probably” by the end of his life will have a system, either one he has forged himself or embraced from someone else’s. Sad to say, what were once distinctives of the system began to be tightly woven into the fundamentals of the Word of God—some good, some bad.
However, the greater tragedy is the divisions created within the Body of Christ. Will the decrees of God receive the glory for saving us? Or will the death and merit of our blessed Lord receive the glory for saving us? Will the cry in heaven be, “Worthy are the Decrees!” or “Worthy is the Lamb!” (Rev. 5)? Not even the decrees of God can compete with the Son of God in His intrinsic glory and merit of procuring our salvation. Are the Scriptures greater than the system? Will the theological systems be the composite of my preaching, or will the gospel of the Scriptures? Where does my ultimate allegiance lie? Does the Body of Christ cease within a system’s boundaries? Does the Body of Christ extend beyond the human boundaries of theological systems?
There is only one Good Shepherd Who gave His life for His sheep; there is only one flock, and only one Body. Although we must remember that the Reformation brought us freedom and liberty from Romanism, it also opened the door to individualistic interpretation of the Scriptures. Therefore, Liberalism and Modernism also became systems of theological thought in Protestantism. Will the evolving of systems ever cease? Is it three points, four points, five points, seven points of Calvinism? Do any two Calvinists agree on every point? Do any two Arminians? Must a person be only either Calvinist or Arminian?
If you destroy the paradoxes of Scripture, the hypostatic unions, you destroy truth. For truth is always balanced. We now have come to a time in the conservative camp that sides are rallying their forces; every man is being forced to choose one system or the other, believing there is no other existing camp. Nevertheless, before the founders of these systems lived, there was the gospel and it was the gospel that saved men’s souls. When we get to heaven there will be no man found worthy to open the book sealed with seven seals. No, not Paul, not John, not the Virgin Mary, and not even Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Arminius, Huss, or beloved Wycliff. No, our only allegiance will be to the One Who died for us, Who redeemed us, in whose Name we were baptized spiritually, and the One for Whom we will live giving glory and honor for ever and ever—the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no power in the systems, for they are all human. But thank God, there is power in Christ and His Scriptures. The Scriptures are not a system but a full declaration of Truth given by God Himself. This is where my allegiance should lie!