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Courage and Faith
L. R. TarsitanoóSaint Andrew's Church, Savannah
The First Sunday after TrinityóJune 25, 2000
"Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).

At their recent Convention, our brethren the Southern Baptists took a number of courageous stands. They reaffirmed the authority of the Holy Scriptures as Godís Word Written and as the inerrant revelation of Godís Truth. They declared their loyalty to the pattern of sexual morality that God has laid out in the Scripturesófaithful, life-long, monogamous marriage between a man and a woman and celibacy for all (male or female, heterosexual or homosexual) outside the state of Holy Matrimony. And they proclaimed their loyalty to the Biblical standards for ordination to the ministry, including the God-given pattern of a male pastorate.

In one way, what made these actions by the Southern Baptists so remarkable is that they were necessary at all. Until very recently, to say that one was "a Christian" was also to say necessarily that the Bible is Godís Word Written and that the essence of Christianity itself is to obey the Word of God, whether written in the Scriptures or Incarnate of the Virgin Mary. On the other hand, much has changed in recent years.

There are those who claim to be "Christians" who also claim the "right" to pick and choose among the Scriptures, or to ignore them entirely, as they invent a religion for themselves. Of course, only God has the right to invent a religion, but this does not seem to faze such people at all. Likewise, it doesnít seem to bother them that they canít really call themselves "Christians" with any truth if they assert that they have "rights" before God, and especially the "right of private interpretation."

Perhaps they have forgotten (or just donít care) that a "right," as far as the Scriptures are concerned, is only a duty of righteousness that we owe to God or to our neighbor. Nothing unrighteous can ever be a right, and rights are never about what we receive, as much as they are about what we must give to others. The chief "equality" in the Bible is this: the equal duty of every man, woman, and child to obey God in all things.

The Scriptures themselves, moreover, forbid any such thing as "private interpretation." St. Peter writes, "Ö[N]o prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:20-21). The moment one enters the realm of private interpretation, he has left the realm of Godís Word, and certainly he has left behind the legitimate practice of Christianity.

The "usual suspects," of course, have howled in protest against the Baptistsí simple affirmation of a scriptural faith, just as the same anti-Christian forces have, from time to time, slandered our own attempts to remain faithful to the whole of the Gospel. But this is nothing new. There have always been enemies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, contained as promises in the Old Testament and delivered as the fulfillment of Godís promises in the New. And there have always been some who called themselves "Christians" but had no intention of trying to convert the world around them to faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to his Father. Instead, they set out to convert the Christian Church and Christian doctrine to the false wisdom and false morality of this fallen world, which is in open rebellion against God.

For this reason, St. James had to write to some of the earliest Christians, "[K]now ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (James 4:4). If this warning from the Apostle seems harsh, our Lordís own warning is even stronger: "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheepís clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Matt. 7:15). 

Our Lord will not even allow that those who misrepresent or warp the Word of God are merely "mistaken." He insists in these words from the Sermon on the Mount that those who teach a different doctrine from the doctrine of God in the Bible are "ravening wolves" who have disguised themselves as members of Godís flock in order to kill and to destroy the unsuspecting faithful.

But how can the once faithful be destroyed by these "wolves" and their false doctrines? The answer is simple. If the once faithful turn away from the One True God; if they put their faith in something less than God; if they worship what is not God; and if they do not repent and repudiate all false doctrine and all false gods, they will die an eternal death and be excluded from the kingdom of heaven. St. John warns us, indeed, that "There is a sin unto death" (1 John 5:16). And St. Paul admonishes us, "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" (Romans 6:16).

Of course, the heart of all modern false doctrine is that there is no final judgment of God, and so it doesnít really matter what we believe or we do, since we are all on our way to heaven anyway. If this were true, who would need the Scriptures as a guide to truth and life? But our Lord Jesus Christ tells us clearly that such a doctrine of do-it-yourself religion is a dangerous lie. He says in the Sermon on the Mount, in the words with which we began, "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." 

Only the disciplined way of the Scriptures (given by God as a graceful token of his goodness) makes a disciple of Jesus Christ, and all other ways lead to destruction precisely because they are opposed to God and his goodness. The gate of heaven is narrow and can only be entered by those who follow Jesus Christ in all things whatsoever, submitting their private judgment to the judgment of their Lord. We pray, or we ought to pray, constantly for the salvation of all men. But if we mean those prayers and if we truly love our neighbors, then we must recognize that Christ has said "few" will enter into life, and only those who follow him, because he has also said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). 

This is the only Gospel that a Christian can preach, because no other Gospel is true or the Word of God. For a Christian to say otherwise is to join the wolves and the false prophets in doing harm to others, no matter how pious he may appear. Mere personal piety is not enough, since our Lord Jesus Christ attests, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). 

Christianity is an objective religion of the express will of God, and not a religion of our personal feelings or intentions. These may be right or wrong, but that can only be known by the revealed Word of God in the Scriptures. Perhaps the most pitiful scene in those Scriptures is our Lordís description of the Last Judgment: "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:22-23).

And what is the "iniquity" that damned these poor souls? It was the use of Jesus Christís holy Name to justify what Jesus Christ had not commanded to be done or to be believed. That iniquity is their self-assertion and their self-fulfillment in their works and teaching, rather than the effort to give all the glory to God in humble obedience to his will, as God has given his will forever in the Holy Scriptures. That iniquity is what is called today "cafeteria Christianity," where people pick and choose among Godís teachings what they will believe or obey.

So thank God for the witness of the Southern Baptists, and may God bless them for their faithfulness, even as a fallen world heaps scorn upon them. And may God give us the same courage to witness to the entirety of his revealed Truth, and may he give us all of the gifts of the Holy Ghost to make us strong in obeying his Son Jesus Christ, who is the Living Commandment of his Father in heaven.
 

Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Andrewís Church and Dr. Tarsitano.