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.
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”(Colossians 4:2–4, ESV)
It seems that very often whenever one hears about prayer in the Christian life, it is directed mainly to the subject of personal prayer: for self and others. Very little is spoken in regard to corporate prayer, pastoral prayer, and the ministry of prayer. That is a shame. Prayer is the engine by which the work of ministry depends because it shows our great need for God to move on our behalf.
In Paul’s closing chapter to the church in Colosse, we are reminded of this truth. Paul asks for steadfast prayer, praying with a thankful heart, but also for the missionary team that Paul is leading. He asks for prayer–not for safety, nor for comfort, but for an open door for the reception of the gospel. He prays that he would be bold, and clear and that he would not shrink back in fear to speak truthfully about the need to turn to Christ for salvation. Paul knows all too well the weakness of the human heart and that he too can succumb to this temptation. He is, after all, in prison because of his willingness to suffer for Christ.
I don’t often hear much about the importance of prayer in fighting the spiritual battle that we are engaged in either. In Ephesians 6:18 in the context of spiritual warfare and the Christian’s armor it says, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,” (Ephesians 6:18, ESV). Praying in agreement with the Spirit (what “praying in the Spirit” means), is directly connected to fighting this spiritual battle we are to be engaged in. And we are not simply to pray for ourselves, but especially to remember our fellow brothers and sisters: “…making supplication for all the saints.”
If we wonder why in an age of so many technological advancements and spiritual resources we are making so little headway, perhaps we need to look at the place of prayer in our personal lives and in the life of the Church today. Do we go to battle on our knees? Do we wage war on behalf of our pastors, our churches, our missionaries, our school teachers, our civic leaders? Do we pray for the gospel to make advances into society by the power of the gospel proclaimed?
As E. M. Bounds, a man of great prayer, wrote many years ago, “What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men.”
Brothers and sisters, as we pick up our Swords, may we wield them with prayer on our lips for the battle we will engage today. May we daily fight the good fight in full dependence upon the Spirit, beseeching the throne of grace with prayer to our mighty God who will fight for us.
 E. M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, paperback ed. 1972), 7.