Daniel Kirk reviews Gerald Bray’s latest book ‘The Church’s One Foundation: What Orthodoxy Means and Why It Matters. LT 2023’
Gerald Bray’s latest book ‘The Church’s one foundation: what orthodoxy means and why it matters’ is a timely and powerful word to our church today - especially to those denominations which are moving towards a revisionist position on the matter of sexual ethics. The book kicks off with a definition of ‘orthodoxy’ which is increasingly being used to group those who come from different theological traditions (for example within the Church of England) who adhere to the bible and the historical creeds, as opposed to those with a liberal/revisionist/progressive agenda.
Bray has hit upon an original way into this subject by using a hymn forged in an earlier time of controversy (when liberalism was first affecting the church in the 1860s, causing schism in South Africa). He uses a verse from The Church’s One Foundation by Samuel Stone to kick off each chapter and in doing so looks at subjects such as: ‘Jesus Christ, The Body of the Saved, Despised by the World, Spiritual Warfare and the Communion of Saints’, before a concluding chapter on ‘why orthodoxy matters’.
The hymn is used as a way to avoid a sterile academic discussion on orthodoxy and is continually backed up by scripture; quotes from the creeds and church history and other well-known hymns. Bray draws on all his biblical, doctrinal, historical and linguistic knowledge to provide a punchy booklet (just under 60 pages) which can be read in an hour and restates the necessity of biblical orthodoxy for the future health of the Church.
I had a few minor quibbles on comments in the book and one larger disagreement with some of Bray’s pronouncements - but it will probably be me who is proved wrong in the final analysis of them! Many Protestant historians of Latin American Church history might struggle with the simplistic statement that ‘Catholic missionaries in particular, spread the gospel across Latin America…’. Did the Roman Catholic Church really spread the gospel or was John Mackay right in saying: ‘… Christ came to America. From Bethlehem and Calvary, he passed through Africa and Spain on his long journey to the pampas and mountains of the West. But was it really He who came or was it another religious figure who carried his name and some of his characteristics?’ (The Other Spanish Christ, 1933, p.11)
Bray kicks off the most interesting and perhaps controversial chapter on Spiritual Warfare by looking at the two world wars and concludes that ‘the world has never really been at peace since’. Was it Barbara Tuchman who argued that the world has always been at war in some place ever since the years of King Solomon? It is this chapter that has some really memorable phrases: ‘[For] the orthodox… spiritual warfare is a daily reality in which we confront the world, the flesh and the devil. Unlike the ‘revisionists’ in the Church, who want to be part of the world, who glory in the flesh and who do not believe in the devil.’ (41) Or later on: “our ‘revisionist’ friends cannot even begin to engage in this battle, since for the most part they do not believe in the devil at all. That he is their commander-in-chief has escaped their notice entirely!” (42)
More controversially, for those who would claim to meet Bray’s parameters of orthodoxy and are currently considering leaving the Church of England, are statements such as: ‘The ironic result is that the Church is ‘sore oppressed’ by the very people who claim to be its strongest supporters, whether they are ‘revisionist’ heretics trying to update our doctrine for a godless age, or hyper-orthodox schismatics who want to turn us into a sect.’ (my italics, p.36)
Or a bit further on: ‘to secede from the Church, on the other hand, would be a dereliction of duty that amounted to surrender and defeat without firing a shot.’ (36-7). I would imagine that many who have left the established Church of England (or will do so in the future) would have done so because of their duty to Christ and His universal church and only after firing all the weapons at their disposal. But though there seem to be an implication that the Church of England is the only true church ignoring the fact that many Roman Catholics would see the post-reformation Church of England as being schismatic in its break from Rome, most of Bray’s ire is focused on the heterodox with devastating effect.
The third verse, of the original seven The Church’s one Foundation contained, isn’t mentioned in this booklet but is worth recalling for it’s encouraging words:
‘The church shall never perish! Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain and cherish, is with her to the end;
Though there be those that hate her, and false sons in her pale,
Against the foe or traitor she ever shall prevail’.
This provocative, penetrating and ultimately pleasing book reassures us by reminding us that Christian orthodoxy will have the last say because Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and because the gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s Church. This book is worth every penny it costs.
Footnote:  The Other Spanish Christ, 1933, p.11