In his soul-stirring book, Light From Old Times, J.C. Ryle puts before his reader reminders of the courageous men and women who gave their lives for the truth of the Word of God. Wycliffe, Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, Bradford, Rogers, and Hooper, among many others, died for refusing to cast aside their conviction of what the Scriptures teach in order to spare their mortal bodies.
The other day I wrote a post in regard to some churches that have diminished views of eschatology as is evidenced in their doctrinal statement. Some claim that since whether one is Amil, Premil, Postmil, is not an issue of salvation, and therefore should be left out of a church doctrinal statement. I think I addressed this in the last post, but I will say this: If we are only going to include universal truths that all Christians agree upon from every communion and tradition, we will indeed have a very small statement.
But this view ignores two realities. First, it mixes the distinction between the universal church and the local expression of the church. Yes, to be included in the universal church we need to ascribe to the gospel as delivered once for all the saints. But the local church, with local pastors and elders will understand very important doctrines and practices very differently from many other local assemblies, that are also a part of the Church Universal.
This simplistic and even naive view wants to act as if anything that is not necessary and primary is not important to express and defend within the local church. Every church makes distinctions in what they believe and how they express their theology in practice. The only way to avoid doing so is to continually water down belief and practice to the lowest common denominator so that whatever you do, so long as you are under the banner of “Christian,” is acceptable. However, in practice, the church that doesn’t write down what they believe and practice does take a stand, but they don’t have it written down.
The second reality often ignored is the fact that not only are secondary and even tertiary issues important to delineate in a doctrinal statement, but their are even good reasons for division. In Ryle’s Light From Old Times, he points out the great division that existed during the Reformation in Europe and England over the issues of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Again, those who would prefer unity over doctrine, would say that this is unfortunate. But history shows that the doctrinally astute understand that these issues matter immensely, and may even be worth dying for if we are convinced by Scripture and conscience.
For the one who would say that secondary and tertiary issues are not important enough to divide over, I would ask whether they have women pastors and elders in their churches, whether they practice infant baptism and believer’s baptism, and by what theological basis do they affirm their practices? Does this non-committal church worship on the Sabbath or on Sunday? Do they partake of the Lord’s Supper without any explanation of the significance? If they do explain, which view do they take? Is it “potluck” and everyone brings their view to the table? Does this sound like unity? Does it sound like nit-picking and division since none of the views would keep a person out of heaven? To me, it sounds like formalized chaos and would break down in actual practice.
We live in a wishy-washy age, but we don’t need anymore wishy-washy leaders in the Church. We need men with lion-hearts and backbone. We need men who will speak with grace, but never depart from truth. We need men who will stand on what they believe and not allow their churches to slink down to the lowest common denominator in its doctrine, and especially under the false guise of “unity.” Doctrine is worth defending. It is even worthy dying for. True, not every hill is worth dying on. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have firm commitments, nor that good men can’t disagree and still be brothers at arms in the fight for truth.
May the Lord restore us to a place where we can have distinction and unity. That we recognize the universal church as all those who subscribe to the basic tenants of the Christian faith, and yet the critical importance of the local church is never downplayed or discounted, but seen as the place where further doctrinal detail is hammered out in the everyday life of Christ’s disciples.