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.

Don’t Forget Who Our Real Enemy Is!

“It may help to be reminded of some of the important doctrines to which dispensationalists subscribe wholeheartedly. After all, dispensationalists are conservatives and affirm complete allegiance to the doctrines of verbal, plenary inspiration, the virgin birth and deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, eternal salvation by grace through faith, the importance of godly living and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the future coming of Christ, and the eternal damnation of the lost. Those who are divided from us in the matter of dispensationalism or premillennialism may remember the areas in which they are united with us. As already noted, some doctrines are more important than others, so it particularly behooves us not to cut off our fellowship from those who share similar views about these important doctrines. There are few enough these days who believe in the fundamentals of the faith, and to ignore those who have declared themselves on the side of the truth of God is unwise. Something is wrong with our circles of fellowship, sense of priority, or doctrine of unity when conservatives view fellow conservatives as the opposition party and then find their theological friends among those who are teaching and promoting error.”—Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Kindle loc. 4236.

Theological Commitments of the Biblical Gospel: The Atonement

Atonement: The Heart of the Gospel

Our theological term “atonement” comes from the Anglo-Saxon root that means “to be at one with another” and was over time shortened to  ‘atonement” (at-one-ment). It is the reconciliation of God to man and man to God that comes through the vicarious (meaning, in our place) penal (meaning it was the wrath of God poured out as the justified penalty for our sins) substitutionary (meaning that it was not for Christ’s sin, but for the sin of others) death of Christ.

But for whom did Christ die? Did he die for the whole world or did he die only for his elect? The answer is for both. When we are talking about the death of Christ, we need to be aware of precision. We are not saying that Christ’s death was unable to save all people that have every existed—that would be to say that the blood of Christ was insufficient in power and ability. But if we were to say that Christ’s death was effective in saving all people that have ever existed, we would fall into that heresy called “universalism.”

Minimally, we cannot deny that Christ’s death was both sufficient and effective for the elect. This is not debated by any who hold to the biblical doctrines of grace. But did Christ’s death on the cross have any effect upon the non-elect—those who would never come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ? Yes.

On 1Tim 4:10, the MacArthur Study Bible notes say in part,

The simple explanation is that God is the Savior of all men, only in a temporal sense, while of believers in an eternal sense. Paul’s point is that while God graciously delivers believers from sin’s condemnation and penalty because He was their substitute (2 Cor. 5:21), all men experience some earthly benefits from the goodness of God. Those benefits are: 1) common grace—a term that describes God’s goodness shown to all mankind universally (Ps. 145:9) in restraining sin (Rom. 2:15) and judgment (Rom. 2:3–6), maintaining order in society through government (Rom. 13:1–5), enabling man to appreciate beauty and goodness (Ps. 50:2), and showering him with temporal blessings (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:15–17; 17:25); 2) compassion—the broken-hearted love of pity God shows to undeserving, unregenerate sinners (Ex. 34:6, 7; Ps. 86:5; Dan. 9:9; Matt. 23:37; Luke 19:41–44; cf. Is. 16:11–13; Jer. 48:35–37); 3) admonition to repent—God constantly warns sinners of their fate, demonstrating the heart of a compassionate Creator who has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:30–32; 33:11); 4) the gospel invitation—salvation in Christ is indiscriminately offered to all (Matt. 11:28, 29; 22:2–14; John 6:35–40; Rev. 22:17; cf. John 5:39, 40). God is, by nature, a saving God. That is, He finds no pleasure in the death of sinners. His saving character is revealed even in how He deals with those who will never believe, but only in those 4 temporal ways.[5]

The Canons of Dort, Articles 3 & 4 (Second Head of Doctrine) say this:

“The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.[6]” And “This death is of such infinite value and dignity because the person who submitted to it was not only really man and perfectly holy, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute Him a Savior for us; and, moreover, because it was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.[7]

These statements are in complete agreement with the biblical record. Christ’s death on the cross is only salvific for the elect, but his death also gives benefits to the whole world. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church agrees with this, stating,

“In Reformed parlance we speak of “common grace” as God’s goodness even to those who are destined to be lost (Romans 2:4-5; Matthew 5:45). God’s goodness to reprobate sinners may be considered the product of the cross. In that sense it might be said that Jesus died for all mankind. But saving grace is called “special grace.” And whatever we may say of benefits flowing from the cross, Christ did NOT die to save those whom He willed to pass over unto deserved condemnation!”[8] 

So, why is this so important for us to know? Well first, because it is the nature of the gospel. Christ died to save others. But whom? Some go so far as to reject even saying that Jesus died for the world, in spite of the fact that the Bible clearly says so. But saying this does not mean that all will be eternally saved, nor does it embrace universalism or the heresy called Pelagianism.

You can say that Jesus died for the world! At the same time, we know that not all the world will be eternally saved. Secondly, we need to be honest about several verses in our Bibles that say that Christ’s death did something beyond saving the elect.

We can’t say that it means that the world was justified and redeemed, but we can see that there are temporal types of salvation that were won by Christ. This isn’t something we need to deny. If we do, we deny the fulness of the glory of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. And finally, we need to know this because we need to study the hard things of the Word and strive to be as accurate as possible, wrestling with the truth, and not denying those bothersome bits that don’t fit well into our thinking.

[5] John MacArthur Jr., ed., The MacArthur Study Bible, electronic ed. (Nashville, TN: Word Pub., 1997), 1867.

[6] Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997).

[7] Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997).

[8] From http://www.opc.org/qa.html?question_id=284