Doctrine Matters

One of my favorite books on the church is 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by one of my favorite pastors Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. Dever identifies biblical theology as one of the "marks" of a healthy church.

Dever writes about an incident which illustrates the importance of conforming our thoughts about God to what He has revealed about Himself in His Word.

I had made a statement in a doctoral seminar about God... [Dever attended a liberal seminary]. Bill responded politely but firmly that he liked to think of God rather differently. For several minutes Bill painted a picture for us of a friendly deity. He liked to think of God as being wise, but not meddling; compassionate, but not overpowering; ever so resourceful, but never interrupting. ―This,‖ said Bill in conclusion, ―is how I like to think about God.

My reply was perhaps something sharper than it should have been. ―Thank you, Bill, for telling us so much about yourself, but we‘re here to study God. We want to know what He‘s really like, and not simply about our own desires.‖ The seminar was silent for a moment, as they took in this potential breach of politeness on my part, but they were taking in the point. I made some appreciative noises towards Bill, and we got on with our discussion about the nature and character of God as revealed in the Bible.

What do you think God is like? Not what do you like to think God is like, but how do you put together the God of Christmas with the God of the great Judgment of the final Day? What is your understanding of God and what He is like? To some of you, that whole discussion may sound nonsensical. Why expend any energy at all over what various people believe about an invisible being? I can understand that kind of skepticism over the importance of this topic. Regardless of our religious confession these days, who can dispute that in many ways religious beliefs seem irrelevant to our world. On television we see Roman Catholics fawning over the pope in his visit to St. Louis, while ignoring his teachings about contraception and abortion. Southern Baptists, who used to be known for decrying illicit sex, drugs, and rock and roll music (lest they lead to dancing, drinking, and playing cards) are now portrayed in a national magazine as antinomian Christians who have made peace with an anything goes morality.

This inattention to belief fits our culture‘s impatience with detail. In society today beliefs have been domesticated. We no longer fight about them. We don‘t really argue about them. We may not even care about them any more. After all, we think so many beliefs are merely passing fashions, or momentary expressions of individual wants or desires. Americans create designer religions and smorgasbord faiths – ―Oh, I‘ll take a little of this from Hinduism, and a little of this from Christianity, and a little of this from my grandmother (I don‘t remember what she was), and put it all together – as our own individual unique religion. Today people believe to be true simply what they desire to be true. Long held Christian beliefs about everything from the nature of God to morality have been reshaped, and have become unimportant to many people. They have been jettisoned in the name of making Christianity more relevant, more palatable, more acceptable to today‘s hearers.

How relevant are your own beliefs to your daily life? When you last sat in church, how much did you examine the words of the prayers you heard? How much did you think about the words of the songs you sang? Or how about the words that you heard from Scripture? Does it really matter to you if what you said or sang in church was true? How much does it really matter anyway? If I attend church and I‘m friendly, and I feel encouraged, and if I give my time to being there and even give my money, how much does it really matter if in my heart of hearts I really don‘t believe all this stuff that people around me say? Or maybe even that I say? How important are religious beliefs?