Scholars generally break down the arguments for God’s existence into three broad categories: scripture, nature, and philosophy. Arguments from philosophy – such as the cosmological, design, and moral arguments – often go over our heads. And unbelievers may reject arguments from scripture as nothing more than myths and legends.
But the apostle Paul makes a good case from nature in Romans 1. The argument is so clear that Paul states emphatically every person will stand before God one day without excuse. That’s because God has revealed Himself to all people in at least two ways.
When it comes to discussions about the existence of God, everyone comes to the table with a bias. Parents that have lost an infant child may question whether a God who allows such tragedies is good, if He exists at all. Evolutionary scientists may reject the notion of God because He does not meet the demands for purely naturalistic explanations. A disillusioned student of history may see the amount of evil done in the name of the Christian God and conclude that He is either a fiction or a monster. And those ungrounded in scripture may graciously — but naively — determine that everyone worships the same god, and that all religious paths ultimately lead to him (or her, or it, or them).
Christian pollster George Barna recently released a study that showed the “unchurched” in America – those who have not attended church in the last six months except for events such as weddings and funerals — have risen from 24 percent in 1991 to 37 percent of the population today. “America is headed for 310 million people with 310 million religions,” he said.
And then, what right do we, as Christians, have to claim the God of the Bible is the only true God? There are many arguments for the existence of God: the moral argument, the cosmological (first-cause) argument, the teleological (or design) argument, and the ontological (or reason) argument, to name a few. But the apostle Paul gives us three reasons to believe in God that leave every person “without excuse” (see Rom. 1:18-20). In fact, Paul would argue that everyone should believe in the God of scripture because He has revealed Himself in three ways: 1) conscience, 2) creation, and 3) Christ.
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Objection 8: There are so many Christian denominations today, it’s clear that Christians can’t agree on what the Bible teaches.
The Handbook of Denominations in the United States (12th Edition) lists more than 200 Christian denominations in 17 broad categories, from “Baptist Churches” to “Community and New Paradigm Churches.” If Jesus prayed that His followers would be one (John 17:11), and if there is to be “one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:4-5), why can’t Christians get along? Even within denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention there have been major splits over issues such as the inerrancy of Scripture and the role of women in the church. Doesn’t all this contentiousness prove a fatal flaw in the Bible, since even people who study it and say they believe it can’t agree on what it teaches?
First, it should be noted that many of the disagreements among Christians are over matters of conscience, such as which day of the week to worship, dietary restrictions, or which translation of the Bible to use (see Rom. 14:1-23; 1 Cor. 10:23-33), or they focus on lesser points of doctrine, such as the mode of baptism, church polity or the manner in which missions activities are organized and funded.
Second, it should be acknowledged that Christians often have engaged in petty squabbling, internal power struggles and political wrangling, resulting in unnecessary divisions in the body of Christ, not to mention damage to the church’s reputation. The New Testament implores believers to be gracious toward and forgiving of one another; clearly, this has not always been the case.
At the same time, Christian denominations generally developed out of a desire for fellowship and joint ministry between individual churches – a biblical concept (Acts. 11:27-30), according to Charles Draper (“Why So Many Denominations?” Apologetics Study Bible, p. 1709). In addition, denominations many times began as renewal movements. The Reformed movements of the 1500s sought to restore the doctrines of the sovereignty of God and justification by faith to the church, which had all but abandoned these biblical teachings. In time, some Presbyterians drifted toward liberalism and new conservative Presbyterian groups emerged to preserve the Reformed teachings. Baptists came along within the Reformed tradition. Pentecostals and charismatics formed new unions based on their view of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts.
There is a rich diversity among Christian denominations, and the differences between them often are not as wide as they appear. This is not to say that all differences are minor, or that all should be set aside for the sake of unity, for in Scripture Christian unity is the product of God’s Spirit working in the hearts of regenerate people and anchored in the truth of God’s Word. Some separations are, in fact, necessary. In the New Testament, many false teachers were disciplined or left the churches (see 1 Tim. 1:18-20; 1 John 2:19). In addition, the apostle Paul warns the church that false teachers will rise to prominence in the church in the days before Christ’s return (2 Tim. 3:1-9). The church today should be on guard against those who preach “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4). For example, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be Christian in their theology and practice, yet both organizations deny the central teachings of Scripture, particularly those having to do with the person and work of Christ, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and the gospel.
Charles Draper summarizes: “The most important thing to do is to examine a church’s teaching and practice to see if it is consistent with Scripture. And finally we have to realize that in this life Christians will not agree on everything” (Ibid.).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
According to Romans 1:18-20, every person will stand before God one day without excuse – that is, without an apologia or defense – because God has revealed Himself to all people in at least two ways:
- He has revealed Himself in our conscience.
- He has revealed Himself in creation.
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