Saturday, January 10, 2009

An Uneasy Peace

Hello friends,

Something I read recently started the wheels spinning in my head and I need to talk it out, so bear with me. The article was pointing out that the local church should be "big enough," meaning open enough, to accept and embrace "Christians" of all different lifestyles and beliefs as long as they are saved. It put forth that the only really important thing is to believe in Jesus as your personal Savior. It said that we should "not allow doctrine to divide us." I've been pondering that thesis.

On the one hand I believe that there is only one requirement for salvation and that is our trust in, and absolute submission to, the person of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. To enter into God's family is uncomplicated--"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31). However, after that things can start to get a little bit sticky in the local church.

If a Christian holds his doctrinal beliefs very loosely then he can feel at home in any congregation. For example, if we determine that whether or not we baptize infants is merely a matter of taste and preference then it's all good. No problems, mate. And if we conclude that it's of no great theological importance whether or not a Christian can lose his/her salvation, then we will feel equally at home in a Nazarene church or a Presbyterian church. Some would say, "Let's just major on the majors and choose to disagree agreeably." Sounds good, right?

It sounds good until somebody like me comes along and thinks that it is important whether or not the Church has supplanted and replaced Israel as God's chosen people. It sounds good until somebody like me points out that there is not one single case of infant baptism in scripture or in the first few centuries of the church. Or how about a boatload of other issues? Here are a few more that come to mind:
  • Did revelation cease with the completion of the canon or is it continuing?
  • Is the Bible to be interpreted literally or merely figuratively?
  • Does the mode of baptism have any importance or is it a multiple choice issue, one way being as good as the others?
  • Does the Bible allow for both genders to serve in the church equally and in the same ways or is there such a thing as biblical polity and practice?
  • Do we get all of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation or is there a second dose to be received later on?
  • Does God really give Christians a personal prayer language?
  • Is speaking in an unknown tongue a sign of the Spirit's presence in a believer's life?
  • Is the Lord's Table a memorial or a sacrament?
One of the things I've observed since returning from Brazil in 1991 is the number of American churches that are changing their names to be more generic, more politically correct, more user-friendly, less denominational, etc. Check it out for yourself in the DEX church pages. What used to be called "Such-'n-such Baptist Church" is now "LifePointe Happy Fellowship." What does that name mean, for crying out loud? Or "Here-'n-there Assembly of God" is now "Friendship Community Founded on the Rock." "ThisTown Methodist" is now "Red Sea LifeGate" or something equally nebulous. I see these weird names all over the city and wonder, "Who in the heck are they, and what do they teach?"

In my humble opinion there is something to be said for a church being honest and courageous enough to fly its flag and let people know who they are and what they stand for. I may not agree with them on every point but I can respect them for taking a stand based on their honest interpretation of scripture. If I'm new in town and looking for a church to attend or join I don't want to have to waste my time going to a local church meeting only to find out that they hold to and support women preachers, baptizing infants, the National Gay Christian Alliance [made up name], or Arminian theology. They may have a gifted orator for a preacher, a beautiful building, a killer worship team, a missions ministry going in every direction, and the best nursery in town but those things don't matter much to me. I'm a doctrine guy.

I have worked across denominational lines for years in evangelistic efforts and I actually enjoy it. I can fellowship with people who hold very different theological views from mine, at least in certain settings. However, in the local church where we work to educate believers in what the Bible teaches it eventually gets to the point where lines have to be drawn and issues clarified according to our understanding of the scriptures. As a preacher and teacher of God's Word I cannot say that the issues I have brought up here as examples are of little importance.

For example, when the question arises in the congregation concerning the ordination of women to the pastorate I am not going to remain silent and just go with the flow, no matter how many other churches think it is OK. When an adult Sunday School teacher suddenly decides to teach that baptism is necessary for salvation I'm not going to merely smile at him and say, "Well, that's your opinion." For me, doctrine is very important, even though some of you might think that I'm obsessing over things that aren't all that crucial.

There are local congregations of good Christian folks who love Jesus and are going to Heaven who wouldn't be comfortable for very long with me in their church, because I wouldn't be able to go along with a bunch of the stuff they believe and teach, and wouldn't be able to keep my mouth shut about it. I would be miserable and would make other people miserable, sooner or later.

Until we all get to Heaven and can sort all this stuff out in Remedial Theology 101 Class taught by King Jesus I think that we are stuck with having different flavors of Christianity reflected in the various different denominational groups. Denominations are not of the devil, per se. They are the natural outcome of humans grouping themselves around their particular understanding of important truths. Even though we attend different churches we can still love one another, respect one another, work with one another, and fellowship with one another.

That works for me. How about you? Feel free to comment.

Still pondering,


  1. That's a lot of questions, mister.

    I believe there are "written in stone" fundamental truths revealed in the bible. Yet, some issues are not specifically addressed. On these matters believers may "agree to disagree" and still be brothers and sisters in Christ's church.

  2. Hey Big D,
    Thanks for the comment. Absolutely, I agree. There are some subjects that I would go to the wall for and others that I wouldn't. For example, I believe the Bible teaches that Christ is going to return to take out His Bride, the Church, before the Tribulation. However, I'm not willing to fight with anyone over it because it's not clear enough in Scripture for that, at least in my opinion. Some other issues are more clearcut. One thing I've noticed is that it is often true that the people who know the Bible the least or are the most theologically liberal shout the loudest for unity among the denominations. Thanks for weighing in. Tchau, bro.

  3. Geez Mike you had me going again and then you ended in the perfect way with some very good words about respecting others and how they believe, even if it is not what you believe. I wish I knew the Bible well enough to trot out a passage that says "..respect the opinions of other people, because your opinion is not better or worse than theirs.." but you kind of wrote it for me.

    Narrowmindedness is a truly bad thing and is at the root of some horrific recent tragedies here in the US. Narrowmindedness and the determination to make others believe and behave like you behave is at the core of some truly reprehensible behavior paraded around by the Taliban and bin Laden amongst other nasty freaks of religious history.

    Many people have suffered and continue to suffer from the strong arm tactics of religious bullies that zealously think their way is the only way. It is just not true. I think if Jesus were here amongst us, he would say the same thing. Much like you wrote.

    Live and let live.
    Jeff B.

  4. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for the encouraging comment. I agree with you--debate is not the way to win hearts. Being a narrow minded know-it-all never wins people to our point of view. And besides, being a Christian is not based on how much you know of the Scriptures or how pure your doctrine might be. Rather, it all comes down to do you, or do you not know Jesus. A person can be correct about theology and dead wrong about the more important issues of life, and the things that were close to Christ's heart. And in terms of winning people to Christ... some of the best evangelists are people who know very little about the Bible or the Christian life. Very often new, baby Christians who know almost nothing of theology are the best witnesses for Christ. Their testimony is simple: "I was blind, but now I see." Their theology is uncomplicated: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." But there is something magnetic and attractive about a person who has recently come to know Jesus and is overflowing with that first love that motivates them to tell everyone they meet.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  5. You have some good thoughts, Mike. Let me interact with a few of them. Don Carson said that a pastor is like a plumber. He is responsible for the reliable flow of pure water into a house, but also for the consistent elimination of toxic waste water from the system. You must have both functions to have a healthy home environment. The New Testament values unity (see John 17), because its ultimate purpose is to let the world know that Jesus is sent by God (v. 23). But the NT also values diversity. The 12 disciples are an example (how did Jesus keep Simon the Zealot in line?). Spiritual gifts are another. And what about Luke 9.49-50? “Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” Interesting.

    As far as the evolution of church names, let me “stir the pot.” First, someone said (I can’t remember the source on this one) that the only barrier that we should erect for non-believers is the offense of the Gospel itself. If that is the motive behind the name changes, then praise the Lord. The meanings of words change over time and we have to recognize that. However, I think that most American church name changes are based on false assumptions about the nature of the church. They assume that non-believers must walk into a church building in order to have any contact with the Gospel! This is putting the cart before the horse. Non-believers should be able to meet Jesus without ever having to scratch their heads over “First Baptist” or “First Presbyterian” or “Red Sea LifeGate” or “Friendship Community Founded on the Rock”. Church buildings are for believers, not primarily for evangelism. Now, once you are inside the church, doctrine does matter, yes. The NT (and OT, see Ezekiel 34) talks much about false teachers who lead the flock astray. That’s enough for now. Keep on blogging, Mike!

  6. Dear Mike--Forgive me for not opening up your blog for awhile, but what a joy to open it up today and see that you are standing strong for the truth of God's Word and teaching it to your congregation!!!

    How very much I appreciate and admire men today who understands true doctrine and stands up for the truth of God's Word, especially in the midst of a world who has so watered down the truth so that their consciences are no longer pricked and their behavior goes unchanged. Jesus IS the truth, and He taught truth, and stood for truth, especially among the religious zealots and Pharisees of his day. It DOES matter what we believe, and it DOES matter that we are willing to stand up for what we believe, especially among those who claim to know the Bible and yet do not do what it says---those who take the word out of context to satisfy their own selfish egos, who want to encompass truth into a warm, fuzzy feeling, who want to go way from church feeling "all is well", when inside they are miserable, sick and hurting because someone failed to teach them the TRUTH of God's Word. Thank God for men like you, Mike, who loves your congregation so much that you desire them to be saturated with the TRUTH of God's Word, rather than have their egos massaged with fluff and surface emotion. Keep on proclaiming doctrine---because doctrine is the very foundation of our belief in Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord!!! HE IS THE TRUTH!


Please feel free to comment on anything here. I look forward to feedback from you.