Doctrine Worth Dying For

Bishop John Hooper burned at the stake by the order of Queen Mary Tudor

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.

The Comforting Effect of Biblical Eschatology

I have an opportunity to look at church websites quite regularly as I try to familiarize myself with many pastors and Bible teachers that cross my path. I look at their church website because unlike the old paper phone books, it says a lot about their theological persuasion and philosophy of ministry.

Although it is not something new, I have noticed more recently that more and more churches are reducing their already paltry doctrinal statements to something even smaller and even more generic. Instead of a document that helps you to understand the convictions of this particular congregation, many says little more than that they believe in the Bible, the gospel, and God. Although these might prove that the church is evangelical (or not), they also leave anyone looking for a church with many questions.

This trend toward generic doctrinal statements isn’t accidental. It follows from the attitude that doctrine divides and that the doctrinal statement of the church should be broad and accepting of anyone that is a Christian. But those who believe this have lost sight of the difference between the local church and the universal Church. One is a local expression of Christ’s body in a particular setting, while the latter is inclusive of all true believers. While the local church is a part of the universal Church, the local church must seek to teach and defend the individual disciples within her care.

But how can you do this if nobody knows what they believe in particular areas of doctrine? Do we baptize believers or infants or is it simply a matter of personal preference? How do we understand the Lord’s Supper? Is it a memorial, or actually the physical body and blood of Christ, or some spiritual mystery? Where does the local church view the role of women in ministry? What about the form of church government? How does a church make decisions and how do they defend their view biblically?

In some churches, the doctrinal statement says nothing. And there is one other doctrine that is probably left out or made generic more than any other—it is the church’s view of the end times. Try it! Go to the website of a local church near you, the bigger the better, and look at their statement on end times. It will, at most, probably state that Jesus will return bodily to judge the wicked and bring his Church into his eternal Kingdom. It won’t say anything about the timing of these events, or what their view is of the millennial kingdom. It wont, most likely, tell you if they believe in the rapture of the Church, and whether that event (if they believe in it) will come before, during, or after the tribulation.

Now, I am not saying all churches have left these out of their doctrinal statements. Not all have. But the trend of churches is to move away from a strong eschatology to a more generic view, citing that many people disagree over which view is correct. But that is a cop-out. Many people disagree over many doctrinal issues, and yet churches still take a stand as to what that particular church teaches. Baptists teach believer’s baptism. If you don’t teach that view, at minimum, your not baptist!

Those who have moved away from such specific statements about their eschatology have often done so for pragmatic reasons—they want to gain more attendees and if they say they take one position, they know they might lose someone who is considering attending. Others have said that the leaders in the church differ on their views, and so for the sake of “unity” they don’t take a position. I wonder if these churches simply skip over the massive sections of Scripture that teach eschatology? How do they defend the faith in regard to end times teaching? I fear they probably don’t.

In reading through Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, I am once again struck by the critical place that eschatology has in the church. Think about this: Paul wrote to the young church in Thessalonica: “Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?” (2 Thessalonians 2:5 (ESV)) I find it interesting that so many pastors claim to not teach eschatology because they haven’t settled on a view, or they are rethinking their view or they don’t teach eschatology to their church because it is so confusing and difficult. Yet, Paul reminded the church that as a regular part of discipling them in their young faith, he taught them these things. Apparently, Paul didn’t think they were too hard for the average Christian to understand, nor for him to even consider not teaching them these things.


In Chapter 2 of 2 Thessalonians, Paul actually offered comfort to the church through correcting their doctrine of the end times. It was false teaching which caused trouble to their hearts and only right teaching could correct it.

Instead of over-reacting to the former use of charts and graphs, and snarky humor about fictional Christian novels about the end times, the church today needs to get serious about studying and teaching eschatology. No pastor should lead a church if he hasn’t settled his views on the end times. I understand that we will keep studying, and by conviction might change our view. But to say, “I don’t know and I’m ok with that” is pitiful. Such a man is robbing his people of great treasures and cannot defend the faith fully if he cannot defend biblical eschatology.

From 2 Thessalonians 1-2, I have compiled a quick list of six benefits that teaching biblical eschatology brings to the church. If we fail to teach on this doctrine, then we do a great disservice to the church and rob them of many comforts and blessings.

Six Benefits of Biblical Eschatology

  1. It helps us endure suffering (2 Thess 1:5-10)
  2. It settles the heart (2:1-2)
  3. It guards against deception (2:3- 4)
  4. It produces a thankful heart (2:13-14)
  5. It grounds us in the faith and the Word (2:15)
  6. It produces a comfort that promotes continued ministry (2:16-17)

The Gospel-Effect Upon Society

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:1–4 (ESV)

I keep hearing that the Church needs to do something to address the social issues of the day, and that this means it needs to do more than simply say that the gospel of Jesus Christ is enough. By this some imply that it isn’t. Social action is the desire, and the timing for that action is now.

But Scripture is clear, we sow what we reap (Job 4:8; Prov 22:8; Hos 8:7; Gal 6:7-8), and America has been sowing some nasty seeds for a long time. Add to this the failure of the American church to faithfully proclaim the truth of Scripture and its application to the life of the home and society, and we have a recipe for disaster. The culture has changed and the salt of Christians has in many places lost its saltiness (Matt 5:13; Mk 9:50; Lb 14:34). As a result, the Church in general has very little impact upon the culture today. We have traded our inheritance of influence for a bowl of political-alliance stew, as it were. The solution for when you find yourself in a pit is not to dig faster, but to stop digging.

The solution for the Church is not to engage in more social action, but instead to return to her charter: bold, faithful, gospel proclamation.

At the end of Ephesians 5 and following into chapter 6, Paul lays out the way that the Church is to “walk in the Spirit” in practical, everyday terms. The gospel life has an effect upon marriage and addresses the practical life of the wife and the husband. It reaches into the home further and makes clear the way that children are to live and how parents should raise them up. It also speaks about the relationship of servants and masters, who in the time of Paul’s writing, were house-servants. Although this could be applied to the employee/employer relationship today, in Paul’s day he was still addressing issues of life in the households of believers.

In the very next section, Paul then transitions to speaking about spiritual warfare. This isn’t an accident. Paul didn’t just lose interest and abruptly change the subject. He knew, as the Church once knew better, that to engage in spiritual battle begins in our homes and our communities. When we fail to parent as Christians, and we send our children off to school and they absorb the wisdom of the world because of the vacuum we have left in their souls, they will soon enough take on the lies and philosophies of the evil one. And as we forsake our marriage vows and live no different than the pagan world around us, indulging in the lust of the flesh and calling it “entertainment,” we will find our vows are crumbling. And when the love of Christ does not inhabit our homes so that husbands will not lead the family before the throne of grace, and wives will not lovingly follow her husband as he follow Christ, we are sowing seeds of destruction that the enemy will water and tend.

Why are we in such a state in our nation? There are many reason, some of which we cannot influence directly. After all, our God moves the nations by his sovereign hand for his good purposes. But we can be faithful to proclaim the gospel from our churches, into the hearts of God’s people, and repeatedly echo those truths in our homes with love and joy, so that our spouse, our children, our neighbors, and our community smell the fragrance of life lived in Christ. We will be salt and light as we are supposed to be. Salt will have its effect on the spoiling world around us, and the light will shine bright against the darkness.

We don’t need a revolution of society. We need a revolution of our souls. We need revival in our churches and homes. We need to return to the fundamentals.