Sunday, October 07, 2007

doctrine is important

New Attitudes posts Mark Dever's thoughts on what is orthodoxy. Coincidentally I had lunch with a friend in which we asked the same question. What are the essentials?

The article begins by considering three of the ways we learn.
For one, the Bible: We learn the truth fundamentally, supremely, finally and mostly through the Bible. This is God’s word written. So study your Bible. Get to know God’s word well. Always be growing in your understanding of it. We love the Lord and because we love the Lord, we love the Lord’s word. We must give ourselves to know it, to meditate on it, to appreciate the great gift that God has given us in His word.

Second, the church: God does not intend us to be earthly orphans—self-taught, self-regulating, self-centered. God has called us to be in local churches that teach the Bible well, and accurately, and that are full of people whose lives show the fruit of faith in God and of the work of His Spirit. We should submit ourselves to them and their teaching.

Christians together in our churches should have a clear grasp on what the Gospel is that saved them. Paul assumes this in Galatians 1:8-9 that these young Christians, the Galatians, could sit in judgment over him, an apostle, if he comes and teaches a different message.

[T]here is a simplicity and a clarity to the Gospel itself that every true Christian knows. It’s the duty of the Christian church, and particularly the elders of that church, to define what we must agree upon to be a Christian and to be a member of that congregation in particular. Pray for your elders, submit to them, thank God for them and their ministry.

Third, we also learn through our conscience: Now each of us has a conscience. But because of the fall, our conscience has been radically harmed. This important part of God’s moral image is not lost, but it’s not all right. It’s not been eliminated, but it’s not always accurate.

We all have an inherent sense of right and wrong, but the conscience is inherent, not inerrant. You cannot assume that your own conscience always tells you the truth. And so you need your conscience to be educated, we need our consciences to be trained and taught according to God’s word.

Yes, I know that many Evangelicals claim we 'hear God' only through Scripture but since Scripture tells us that is not true, I'll stick with what Scripture says on that (hope that made sense?).

Next we are offered a simple four part test to determine if a doctrine is important enough to seek agreement on, i.e., is it an essential.

1. How clear is it in Scripture?
2. How clear do others think it is in Scripture? (Especially those that you respect as teachers of God’s word and trust.)
3. How near is it to the Gospel? (Or how near are its implications to the gospel itself?)
4. What would the affects be doctrinally and practically if we allowed disagreement in this area?

Some would say all doctrine is essential. At one level I agree but I would add that there is a prioritization of doctrines that must take place. Some things are more clear than others and some things are more important than others - or at least the manner in which the doctrine is practice is subordinate to another.

1 Cor 15 - Now brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand, by this Gospel you are saved if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you, otherwise you have believed in vain. For what I have received, I passed on to you, as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he was buried, and he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve.

Scripture is full of admonition regarding the importance, i.e., the "essentiality" of doctrine - but all doctrine must work together for it to be true. Any doctrine pulled from the rest and practiced out of order becomes a perversion. This does not nullify the doctrine, it nullifies the practice.

NA then attempts to pull three essentials around which the rest are formed. These are: God. The Bible. The gospel.

We have to believe in the one true God. We have to believe that God is one, and that he is Triune: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We have to believe that He is uncreated, that He is self-existing, that He is not dependent upon anyone else. And we must believe that He is morally perfect, that He is characterized by holiness and by love, that He is by His own will our Sovereign Creator and our Lord and our Judge. He is the one that we’re called to believe in.

The Bible
The Bible is how we know the truth about God.

The Gospel
We must agree on the gospel—the good news.

If we agree on these things we are brothers and ought act like it. If we do agree, we are not brothers. Worse, if we agree but do not act in love, we sin.

I think many who call themselves christian disagree in one or more of the three points above. Yet when we engage with someone we disagree with we spend time debating points other than these. It seems that without alignment here, the rest can never make sense.


Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

Rick - this points to the unversality of subjectivity. How can we minimize our own subjectivity concerning perceiving truth, and then how to minimize our own subjectivity when assigning the "essential" monker to the set of truths we've perceived subjectively?

The two safe modes are:

proclaiming that all our beliefs are objective,(i.e. Calvinism)


all our beliefs are subjective.(i.e. emergent)

Both those positions are lazy, self righteous, and actually cowardly. In these days we need a renewed direction about confirming truth that emenates from the Scriptures, interacts in passion, rejects compromise in an atmosphere of humility, preaches to the needy as well as discourses within the different choirs, lives in diversified unity, and most of all projects Jesus objectively through the prism of individual subjectivity.

There is only one person that can do that. The Holy Spirit. It might be time to invite Him back!

rick said...

Rick - I agree with your point but not your examples. I'm not aware of Calvinism proclaiming all beliefs are objective. Some well-know Calvinist my hold to that but that's not part of Calvinism.

On the emergent side, I don't know but I hope that's not the official emergent position.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

I've never heard MacArthur say "I'm not sure". And i enjoy him but certainty seems to be their presentation.

rick said...

To your point, yes - but I don't remember all of us Calvinists getting together to elect MacArthur as our spokesperson. While he is a Calvinist, it would be good not to equate his beliefs and practices with Calvinism.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

See, you guys are like the emergents, no central core of beliefs. (only kidding). But people like Ken claim "I'm not a Calvinist" but in reality he means he differs from Calvin in some areas, I guess.

If someone says to me "You are an Arminain" I say yes because I know what he means. The cigar thing and the rest would disqualify you from some Calvinistic circles, so that means that your doctrine would take a back seat to their personal expectations.

jul said...

just like to mention that while it's great to all agree that 'the gospel' is essential, there are many different understandings of what exactly that 'good news' is. too many times these great biblical words like gospel, grace, ect...have different meanings depending on who you're talking to. and for an example of a non-essential issue that i think the na crowd tries to make central to the gospel, they believe complimentariarianism is a core issue that is as important as the gospel, and part of it (check out the together for the gospel statement as well). i guess i'm saying all this because i'm in a state of blog starvation hehe...

rick said...

Jul - your comment is interesting because I was thinking exactly the same thing in terms of the specifics of God, Bible, and Gospel. But I would hope we could at least focus on these for discussion rather than arguing about yoga (as an example).