A PLEA FOR DOCTRINAL CHRISTIANITY
"For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting;
and His truth endures to all generations."
In case you havent noticed, there is a growing crisis of content on the Christian scene. A "Christianity Today" article (February 19, 1990) entitled "Evangelical Megashift" outlined this retrograde "New Model" evangelicalism and its "New Model" thinking as a doctrinal soft-peddling that assigns non-biblical definitions to Biblical concepts such as faith, judgment, wrath and sin.
When Jesus declared that God was to be worshipped in truth, as well as in spirit, He surely was emphasizing the importance of right belief as an integral part of the life of faith. Such worship is most likely to be practiced when theology is regarded as the "Queen of the Sciences" and not a mere peripheral matter.
How the scripture speaks of the centrality of doctrine! When Christ spoke of the resurrection, "the multitudes were astonished at His DOCTRINE." It is written that the earliest church "continued steadfastly in the apostles DOCTRINE." When people are saved, it is because they" obeyed from the heart that form of DOCTRINE to which you were entrusted." The Christianity of the first century was cognitive and it was doctrinal.
1. Doctrine is necessary as a means of expressing the meaning of Christianity because of the nature of man. If we were feelings alone, it might be different. But our nature includes reason as well as feelings.
2. The nature of reason is such that it takes doctrinal thinking to separate fact from theory.
3. Doctrine is necessary, therefore, to define Christianity, to defend it in the marketplace of ideas and to propagate it.
This writer had the privilege of assisting in ministry a fine defender of the faith from the British Isles by way of Houston named Gordon Magee. Forced by illness to-resign his pastorate, his farewell sermon contained these words:
Somebody says, "I dont know why you always have to get into doctrine." Let me tell you. Theres a man called Ezra, who came out of Babylon and built the house of God in Jerusalem. But it took more than that -- it took another man: Nehemiah. He came back and built a wall around it --and youve got to have a wall around a church. And if you dont have a wall of sound Bible doctrine and teaching, theres no telling how soon your church will become a cage of unclean birds and every foul spirit. Doctrine is not a luxury, its an absolute necessity.
Doctrinal light, however, is often hidden under a bushel!
heres how its done:
1. There is, at least in the United States, a national distaste for intellect and a resentment of the life of the mind. This notion is founded upon a set of fictional antagonisms: intellect being pitted against feeling, character and practicality. Intellect, however, cannot be divorced from other human qualities. What is needed, then, are sanctified minds -- transformed minds.
It should be noted that this malaise has not always been the norm. Pulitzer prize winner Richard Hofstadter has observed:
Among the first generation of American Puritans, men of learning were both numerous and honored. There was about one university-trained scholar, usually from Cambridge or Oxford, to every forty or fifty families. Puritans expected their clergy to be distinguished for scholarship, and during the entire colonial period all but five percent of the clergymen of the New England Congregational Churches had college degrees.
Puritanism as a religion of the Book, placed a strong emphasis upon interpretation and rational discourse and eschewed ranting emotionalism. Puritan sermons combined philosophy, piety and scholarship; and it was one of the aims of Puritan popular education to train a laity capable of understanding such discourses.
2. Found in some segments of todays church is a mysticism where experience takes precedence over truth. This is not classical Christian mysticism, but newer, damaging variety. Surely, experiential Christianity is the only type of Christianity the Bible portrays, yet the Apostle Peter writes in reference to the scripture, "we have a more sure word of prophecy."
3. In other quarters, there is an emphasis on the so-called "cultural mandate" to the virtual exclusion of other Christian distinctives. (This cultural mandate, as defined by some, is arguably overrated and misemphasized!)
4. Then there is the problem of a growing unbiblical epistemology , a false concept of the nature of knowledge and truth. Classical thinking has held that if a thing was true, its opposite was false. Today the approach to truth is often that of synthesis: the unified whole in which opposites are reconciled. What mischief this does to doctrine! What damage this does to the concept of propositional revelation!
The greatest reason for thinking according to classical logic is the Jesus did! Christ said "I am the way, the truth and the life," THEREFORE he added, "no man comes to the Father except through Me." Paul wrote that we are saved by grace, through faith THEREFORE he concluded salvation "is not of works lest anyone should boast." Romans 11:6 reads, "And if grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it no longer is of grace; otherwise work is no longer work." These and many more examples depict the Bible as containing a world of mutual exclusives.
5. Perhaps the greatest cause of hiding light under a bushel is the "success syndrome" among ministers: that self-seeking, image-conscious, worldly approach to doing the work of God that focuses on the least-common Christian denominator in order to gather the largest possible crowd and glean the highest possible budget. When peer-pleasing pragmatism runs amok, dont expect the whole counsel of God to be declared.
To this, Jesus asked, "How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?" Jn. 5:44. Paul, too, knew that, "If I still pleased men, I would not be the servant of Christ." Sobering words for us at the end of the twentieth century, are these.
We commend the words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon:
I love so much what I believe to be true, that I would fight for every grain of it; not for the stones only, but for the very dust thereof. I hold that we ought not say that truth is non-essential to salvation, but it is essential for something else. Why! you may as well take one of the jewels out of the Queens crown, and say it is non-essential, she will be Queen all the same! Will anyone dare to tell God that any doctrine is "non-essential"?
It is impossible, thus, to dispense with doctrine and retain true Christianity. If the church is to speak meaningfully to our age, it will do so only by presenting a doctrinal Christianity and a doctrinal Christ. An undoctrinal Christianity produces a folk religion that is ineffective in captivating the minds of men and women today. If the church, therefore, is to give direction to a post-Reformation age, it will be in the form of doctrinal, substantial Christianity.