June 05, 2005 Q & A

Denominations and Christian Truth


I have a question about Christianity. I once heard that there are thousands of different Christian denominations. The exact number is not important. Each denomination has its own, unique interpretation of the Bible, and each denomination asserts that its interpretation is the correct one. Not every denomination can be right; someone has to be wrong. With respect to the OPC and John Calvin, how do you know that the OPC's interpretation is the correct one?


It was Solomon who wrote "this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions" (Eccles. 7:29, King James Version). This being true it is hardly surprising that there are so many variations, and deviations, in man's understanding of the Bible.

It is also true, however, that Jesus Christ the Son of God promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide his church into "all the truth" :

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-14, English Standard Version)

(1) This process began when the Holy Spirit enabled the Apostles to remember everything that Christ had taught them:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26, ESV)

(2) It continued as the same Holy Spirit enabled the Apostles to write down everything that the Christian Church needed to know:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31, ESV)

See also:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3, ESV)

(3) It has continued further through the history of the Church as the Holy Spirit has enabled the Church—as "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 TImothy 3:14-15, New King James Version) or, in other words, the institution appointed by God to uphold the truth of the Bible—to understand the Bible:

These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

(4) And the proof and evidence of this is to be found in the great Creeds and Confessions of the historic Church.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church stands in the line of what are commonly called the Ecumenical Creeds: the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Creed formulated at the Council of Chalcedon. The Reformation was not a departure from these Creeds so much as a return to them. For example, the Heidelberg Catechism (which has always been honored by Presbyterian and Reformed believers) is in large part a restatement of the Apostles' Creed according to its original meaning. And other Reformed Creeds, Catechisms, and Confessions do much the same thing. They restate the faith enshrined in the Ecumenical Creeds in such a way as to exclude error and misunderstanding.

It is not quite correct, therefore, to say that each denomination has its own unique interpretation of the Bible. The OPC does not claim any "unique"' understanding of either the Ecumenical or Reformation Creeds. It only claims to be sincerely striving to remain faithful to them.

You are right, of course, when you say "not every denomination can be right" if you mean "right in everything." But the OPC does not claim that either. No church on earth has ever been perfect (even the church that Jesus pastored had at least one hypocrite in it). At best we can only claim that we are sincerely striving to be faithful to the Word of God, and that we find the clearest expression of what the Word of God teaches in the Westminster Standards.

The writer of this note has been a pastor for 53 years and has diligently studied the Bible for 60 years. The result has been an increasingly strong conviction that the great Creeds and Confessions—Ecumenical and Reformed—are, indeed, the most faithful to the Bible. But the only way that you will be sure about that is to study them along with your own study of the Bible.

Thank you for a thought-provoking question!



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