With a very hectic travel schedule for the past several weeks, I haven’t been able to write on this blog as I’d like, but the end is in sight!
In the meantime, I had a wonderful opportunity to sit down with Dr. Damian Efta, Pastor Andy Huber, and Elder Kevin Gentzler, all shepherds at Church of the Open Door in Leavenworth, Kansas (www.opendoorinfo.org).
The church has a weekly podcast named “Sheep and Shepherds,” whose audience is primarily their local church body. In the first podcast we recorded in my time with them, I explained what IFCA is, a bit of our history, and why a church or individual might want to join.
You can listen to this particular podcast episode here: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/sheep-and-shepherds-podcast
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.
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
- It helps us endure suffering (2 Thess 1:5-10)
- It settles the heart (2:1-2)
- It guards against deception (2:3- 4)
- It produces a thankful heart (2:13-14)
- It grounds us in the faith and the Word (2:15)
- It produces a comfort that promotes continued ministry (2:16-17)