Results tagged “Doctrine” from Reformation21 Blog

The Need for a Ministerial Break Down

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"We keep our preaching basic because we have so many new believers. If we give them too much doctrine, they won't be able to understand it." I can't remember how many times I've heard church planters and pastors say such things. Sadly, as their ministries begin to grow numerically, mature believers in the congregation are left to languish in spiritual malnourishment and discouragement. On the other hand, there are those churches (though significantly fewer in number) in which ministers seem to wear their academic interests on their sleeve in the pulpit. They burden the congregation with highly nuanced theological subjects or phraseology in the name of faithfulness. Whether it is compromising ministers diluting God's word to the spiritual malnourishment of the congregation or ivory tower pastors caring little about bringing along new believers, one of the great needs of our day is for preachers to learn how to break down, rather than water down, the truth of God's word.

We find this important principle at work in the ministry of John Calvin. On the whole, Calvin tended to reserve his more academic prowess for the institutes and his commentaries--rather than for his sermons. In his essay, "Calvin's Sermons on Ephesians: Expounding and Applying Scripture," Randall C. Zachman helpfully observes,

"[Calvin's] sermons differed from the commentaries both in terms of their audience and their objective. The commentaries have, as their audience, the future pastors...with the goal of revealing the mind of the author with lucid brevity. The sermons have, as their audience, ordinary Christians within a specific congregation with the goal of expounding the intention or meaning of the author, and of applying that meaning to their use, so that they might retain that meaning in their minds and hearts, and put it into practice in their lives."

Calvin sought to adjust himself in different ways to his readers and hearers--distinguishing between what he wrote for the academy and what he proclaimed from the pulpit. A brief comparison of his commentary on Genesis and his sermons on Genesis serve to demonstrate this difference of approach. To be sure, it is a task of no small difficulty.

In our day, when ministers water down God's word they almost always do so from behind a missiological smokescreen. Insisting that a robustly theological ministry is a detriment to reaching the unchurched, they introduce a number of serious problems. First, they--perhaps inadvertantly--give the impression that the ability to impart spiritual understanding lies within the power of the messenger rather than in the working of the Spirit and word of God. In essence, they suggest that the outcome of their teaching is commensurate with the supposed intellectual ability of the hearers. This not only denies the sovereign working of the Spirit of God through the word of God--it levels an intellectual insult at the people to whom they minister. Second, such reasoning carries with it the faulty presupposition that everyone grows at the same slow spiritual pace. Such ministers forget that most of the weighty Apostolic letters were written to new Gentile converts who lacked much, if any, familiarity with the Old Testament. Yet, the Apostle Paul wrote some of the deepest and most profound truths to new converts in Rome, Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus, etc. These letters included appeals to oftentimes less familiar verses of the Old Testament as well as to some of the most difficult and nuanced theological argumentation in all of the Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16).

Those ministers who fail to break down God's word for His people usually do so from behind an ecclesiastical smokescreen. They treat each member of the congregation as if he or she should be at the same spiritual place in understanding by virtue of the fact that they are members of the church. This is often driven by unrealistic and undistinguished spiritual and intellectual expectations of every believer. They too have faulty presuppositions that everyone will grow at the same spiritual pace---failing to factor in the spiritual infancy of new believers.

Those who water down the truth will often appeal to 1 Corinthians 3:2--where the Apostle Paul wrote, "I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able;" and, ministers who fail to break down the truth will almost always point to Hebrews 5:12-14, where the writer rebukes the congregants for their spiritual immaturity when he says, "For though, by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." So, how can we reconcile these two truths of Scripture that seem to lay in stark contrast with one another?

Calvin's comments on 1 Corinthians 3:2 are exceedingly helpful. First, Calvin explained that the minister must learn to "accommodate...to the capacity of those he has undertake to instruct." He wrote:

"Christ is at once milk to babes, and strong meat to those that are of full age, (Hebrews 5:13, 14,) the same truth of the gospel is administered to both, but so as to suit their capacity. Hence it is the part of a wise teacher to accommodate himself to the capacity of those whom he has undertaken to instruct, so that in dealing with the weak and ignorant, he begins with first principles, and does not go higher than they are able to follow, (Mark 4:33,).

He then went on to warn ministers against watering down the truth in preaching:

"[We must] refute the specious pretext of some, who...present Christ at such a distance, and covered over, besides, with so many disguises, that they constantly keep their followers in destructive ignorance...their presenting Christ not simply in half, but torn to fragments...How unlike they are to Paul is sufficiently manifest; for milk is nourishment and not poison, and nourishment that is suitable and useful for bringing up children until they are farther advanced."

How important it is for ministers of the Gospel to, at one and the same time, avoid that theological dilution by which we fail to bring up children "until they are farther advanced" while rejecting that ecclesiastical elitism that refuses to "accommodate to the capacity" of those we are instructing. Rather, it must be the goal and aim of our ministries to be faithful to the call to break down God's word "until we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ" (Eph. 4:13-15).
Tim Challies, a good friend of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals recently posted this piece over at Challies.com. As it was smack dab in the middle of what the Alliance dwells on, so we asked Tim is we could share it. If you are not checking in on Challies.com, you should be.


6 Great Reasons To Study Doctrine

I love doctrine. Doctrine is simply the teaching of God or the teaching about God--the body of knowledge that he reveals to us through the Bible. I guess I'm one of those geekly people who loves to learn a new word and the big idea behind it. But I hope I do not love doctrine for doctrine's sake. Rather, I strive to be a person who loves doctrine for God's sake.

Today I want to give you 6 great reasons to study doctrine.

Doctrine Leads to Love

Doctrine leads to love--love for God that then overflows into love for others. 1 John 4:8 makes it plain: "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." To know God is to know love; to know God is to equip yourself to act in love. Your love for God is limited by your knowledge of him, so that you can really only love him as far as you know him. As the depth of your knowledge grows, so too does the depth of your love. This is why the study of doctrine cannot be the pursuit of dry facts, but facts that lead to living knowledge of God and growing love for God. When you know doctrine, you prepare yourself to live in ways that express love to him and to others.

Doctrine Leads to Humility

Second, doctrine leads to humility. A little while ago I saw a YouTube video of a man breaking the world record in dead lifting by lifting a nearly unbelievable 1,015 pounds. I know that if I tried to lift even a fraction of that amount I'd slip a disc and be in bed for a month. The distance between that person and myself makes me face my own weakness. And that is just a glimpse of what happens when you see God as he reveals himself. You see the infinite distance between his power and your weakness, between his holiness and your sinfulness, between his unchangeable nature and your fickleness. And as you see it, you are humbled. You cannot see God and be proud. You cannot know God and be arrogant. When you see God as he really is, you must be humbled by his sheer magnitude and you must be humbled by your inability to box him up, to understand him all the way. The greater your knowledge of God, the greater your humility.

Doctrine Leads to Obedience

Third, doctrine leads to obedience. And here is what I mean: Just like you can only love God as far as you know God, you can only obey God as far as you know God. As you get to know God more and deeper, you are able to obey him better. Think here of the Old Testament and how often God reminds the Israelites of who he is and on that basis commands their obedience. He does this again and again: "Here is who I am, here is what I have done, and therefore you owe me your obedience." And think of the New Testament which constantly points to Jesus Christ and calls us to conformity to him. What you learn of God and what you learn about yourself through the Word of God leads you to live a life that honors him. Again, theology is not a cold pursuit of facts, but a red-hot pursuit of the living God, and it works itself out all over life.

Doctrine Leads to Unity

Fourth, doctrine leads to unity. I once attended a church where I heard a pastor use that old phrase, "Doctrine divides." He told the church that the path to unity was to hold a very low and basic level of doctrine, because he was convinced that knowledge would breed arrogance and division. But he was dead wrong and that church splintered because of lack of unity--a lack of unity that flowed directly from a lack of sound doctrine. Churches are bound together by the beliefs they share. Of course there will be certain minor variances in a church on lesser matters, but the greater the shared beliefs on the essentials, and the greater the emphasis on the essentials, the greater the degree of unity. In Ephesians 4 Paul talks about the way God gives leaders to churches and says they are given, "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes." He draws a clear connection between doctrine or spiritual growth and unity between believers.

Doctrine Leads to Worship

Fifth, doctrine leads to worship. Doctrine is meant to amaze you with the sheer power and magnitude of God. It amazes you with the sheer sinfulness of mankind. It bewilders you with your own insignificance before God, and yet your sheer significance in his plan of redemption. It moves you with the incredible mercy of God as expressed in sending his Son to die for you. The more you know of God, the more you can worship God and the more you will want to worship God. What you learn of God should always motivate your worship. And again, the more you know of God, the warmer the heart behind your worship and the deeper the expression of your worship. It is at the end of his long theological reflection on God that Paul says, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways" (Romans 11:33). His knowledge of God led directly to worship of God.

Doctrine Leads to Safety

Finally, doctrine leads to safety. It protects the church. In Titus 1 Paul says an elder "must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it." When you know doctrine, you are able to rebuke anyone who wanders from it, and you are responsible for doing so. When you know doctrine, you are able to defend your church from those who would want to lead it astray. A church that cares little for doctrine, and a church without people who know and love doctrine, is a church that will necessarily be blown and swayed by every wind and wave of doctrine.

So there you have six good reasons to value doctrine, to study doctrine, and to know doctrine.

Thank you Tim!

Text link - http://www.challies.com/articles/6-great-reasons-to-study-doctrine?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzEmail&utm_content=5575&utm_campaign=0