Nowadays, doctrine is not much mentioned in churches. Words like “creeds” and “catechism” are foreign to the vocabulary of church leaders. In the absence of doctrinal teaching, it is not surprising that most Christians no longer understand what they are supposed to believe. Unfortunately, nature abhors vacuum – the consequence is not just doctrinal indifference, but doctrinal perversion. Liberal theology which was vanquished and banished from the Malaysian churches in the early 1980s now finds a ready audience among younger Christians who are not properly taught the faith of their forefathers. It is indeed what the Apostle Paul foresaw when he wrote, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2Timothy 4:3)
Rather than giving an exhaustive list of new heresy that will one day become new orthodoxy in the Malaysian church, I shall just share the so-called “Apostate’s Creed’.
“The Apostate’s Creed’ was originally published by The Gospel Coalition. Date: 27 June 2017)
It is fun reading the humorous take on the “Apostate’s Creed, except for the fact that doctrinal error results in deadly spiritual consequences. More than half a century ago, Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) sounded the alarm that liberal theology is not just an intellectual aberration; it is a source of spiritual corrosion and apostasy.
MLJ insists that only right doctrine promotes saving faith and obedience. He begins with the classical understanding of what constitutes the Christian church:
“What is the Christian church? That is the question. You cannot discuss church unity unless you are clear in your mind as to what the church is. Now here is the great divide. The ecumenical people put fellowship before doctrine. We are evangelicals; we put doctrine before fellowship.”
“What then is this true doctrine?…the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God; our assertion of the unique deity of the Lord Jesus Christ–yes, His virgin birth; the miraculous and supernatural; His atoning, sacrificial, substitutionary death; His literal, physical resurrection; the person of the Holy Spirit and His work. These are the doctrines which are essential to salvation; there is the truth that is to be preached, the message which is the first of the true marks of the church. And a church, surely, is a gathering of people who are in covenant together because they believe these things. Not only do they believe them, but they are men and women who have experienced their power. They are men and women who are born again and born of the Spirit, and who give evidence of this in their daily life. Surely that is the evangelical view of the church.” [MLJ, Knowing the Times (Banner of Truth, 1989), p. 252.
MLJ’s emphasis on the cruciality of right doctrine needs to be heard afresh as churches today are more interested with practical rather than doctrinal and spiritual aspects of Christianity. “Intellectual lethargy is undoubtedly the greatest sin of many Christians today… We are lazy Christians who do not read, do not think, and do not delve into the mysteries” [MLJ,The Unsearchable Riches of Christ: Exposition of Ephesians 3 (Banner of Truth, 1979), pp. 138, 208)] MLJ concludes, “If I were asked to name the greatest trouble among Christians today, including those who are evangelical, I would say that it is our lack of spirituality and of a true knowledge of God.” [MLJ,The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, p. 6]
The consequences are not only intellectual as faith that lacks solid biblical foundations and theological understanding leads to superficiality in worship and moral inconsistency in relationships. For MLJ, there is an inseparable link between doctrine, spiritual experience and Christian obedience. He observes that the New Testament first presents a doctrine and then supplies the word “therefore” to spell out its implications for Christian practice and obedience. That is to say, “The life which we are to live is a life which always results from the application of doctrine.” [MLJ, Christian Unity: An Exposition of Ephesians 4:1-16 (Banner of Truth, 1980), p. 17] In technical language, in the New Testament, the “indicative” precedes the “imperative.”
For this reason, doctrine is foundational for Christian obedience. “Doctrine must always come first, and we must never reverse this order. It is, I repeat, the invariable practice of the New Testament itself to speak of doctrine before the application of doctrine. We must not act before we are clear about our doctrine. That is, beyond all question, the most vital principle of all in connection with the New Testament doctrine of sanctification” [Christian Unity, p. 17]
Doctrine is not just an intellectual commitment, it is the driving force for Christian sanctification and obedience. It is not the case that we grasp truth so much as it is truth which grasps us. Truth is not only informational, it is transformational. “The way of sanctification, is first and foremost, a full realization of the biblical doctrines…We must see the things to which we have been called, the glorious possibilities that have been opened for us; and the more we see and understand and grasp them the more we shall be ready, and indeed anxious, to work them out in practice…In Scripture doctrine and practice are indivisibly joined together… It is to the extent that we grasp the truth of the doctrine that the desire to be holy is created within us.” [Christian Unity, pp. 20, 21]
In short, right doctrine leads to right Christian behavior. Conversely, wrong doctrine leads to wrong Christian behavior. Christian apostasy goes beyond abandoning right “Apostolic” doctrine; it is desertion of the community of faith that ultimately results in rejection of the moral tradition of Christianity.
I end with a paraphrase of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s challenge, ““Only he who believes [rightly] is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes [rightly].”? [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship (MacMillan, 1963), p. 69]
Related Post: Are We Saved by Believing in Right Doctrine?
4 thoughts on “Only Right Doctrine Promotes Saving Faith and Obedience”
Actually there is no lack of interest in spirituality among Christians. The issue is what is the basis of some of their “spiritual” practices? Do they have any biblical basis? Some may even argue that there is no need for any biblical basis as long as there is the intention of drawing near to God.
Hi SP Lim,
You are right. ‘Spirituality’ is the new flavor among Protestants in town. Many Christians who are understandably dissatisfied with entertainment oriented worship and shallow preaching in churches today are attracted to teachers who assure them that the newly imported spirituality are proven methods with ancient pedigree. Unlike the ad hoc prayers practiced by Protestants, ‘spirituality’ promises a reliable path into esoteric spiritual experience, deep insight and personal authenticity. Unfortunately, much of the newly imported spirituality lacks solid biblical foundations and in reality are offering a smorgasbord of pop psychology and oriental mysticism.
I do not want to discourage Christians in their quest for a living God who condescends to meet his believers and offers fellowship with Christ through the guidance (direction) of the Holy Spirit. There is a place for the traditional spiritual disciplines of the cultivation of the inner life, so long as they are biblically informed. I have myself taught courses on Christian spirituality when I was lecturing in seminary. However, without proper balance and submission to the Word and Spirit, when ‘experience’ trumps biblical truths set within a holistic framework of sanctification of covenant life, the Christian authenticity of these spiritual experiences are called into question. As holistic medicine once functioned as a gateway into New Age belief in the 1990s, spirituality that lacks proper biblical foundations can end up as a Trojan horse for esoteric syncretism and other-worldly Gnosticism.
~ Although I read your blog from across the Ocean, it is striking how relevant it is to what is going on here in the States. I recently moved from a small city to another much larger city and have had to do a search for a new church home. As I have done this, what I have found is that a lot of churches are starting to embrace things like centering contemplative prayer or an openness to Eastern Religions or mystical experiences. Rob Bell is also making the rounds these days and he basically has a very low view of Scriptures (not to mention creeds) and his work, I predict will open the way for further religious pluralism in the Church. It is disappointing and I have been praying a lot. A lot of this stuff is just New Age ideas packaged in Christian clothing. And yes, I can tell you that it will not satisfy and will disappoint.
This all has led me to think a good bit about 2 Cor. 12:2 – “… I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven…”.
The key word for me in this is “fourteen”. If these sorts of phenomenal experiences were so great, then why did the apostle Paul wait 14 years to tell us barely a scratch about it? Why have his letters not been filled with all kinds of elaborations on this? Why not a whole epistle just on this? Why so much silence?
Perhaps it is because they really are not important. Perhaps – well not perhaps but – truly it is because we ought not to be seeking after such things. What Paul experienced, he did not seek. It was granted to him. We ought to be content with what God has granted us in this life, knowing that really what is owed us sinners is judgment and a Christ-less eternity beyond that!
~ Raj Rao
Hello from XXXX! [edited to preserve anonymity] I completely agree with what you said about liberal theology being the reason why people and churches believe anything today, even things that are obviously wrong and against the bible. How will people ever have discernment if they do not believe the correct doctrine in the first place, right? I believe that discernment is not only for those who have the spiritual gift of discernment but it is absolutely crucial for every believer especially in our current times.
Coming back to liberal theology, from 2013-2016, I was in my hometown attending the church I grew up in and I realized that the pastor had a liberal interpretation of the bible. Although I never found anything he said to be outrightly wrong, I knew there was something severely lacking in his teaching that felt like negligence on the flock. I thought about this for a long time and deduced that there is no other way than to teach the congregation how to read the bible for themselves and how to interpret the bible correctly which is conservatively.
I attended his young adults cell group a which he taught every week and he would also never correct someone who interpreted the bible wrongly (ie when someone reads their own life/interpretation into a passage that actually had nothing to do with their life) or if someone asked him if their understanding of the passage was correct he would just shrug it off, as long as the person seemed to have derived some practical application or moral value to apply to life. While I thought that was a complete abomination to the sanctity of scripture that “you shall not add or subtract anything from it”, he felt that he was doing his job because his flock was “learning something”. Anything flies as long as you have a take home moral lesson. He also never taught how to read in context and interpret correctly even if someone asked him how to do so. He would say (and I’ve heard from many pastors and youth leaders of that particular denomination) that you “don’t need so much head knowledge”. I feel that although he has never been theologically wrong himself but not raising a church to be biblically sound in doctrine is as bad as the teacher teaching doctrinally wrong things.
Also, the majority of the kids whom I went to Sunday school with are now in charismatic mega churches that get high on feeling the “spirit”, interpret the bible however they like and preach the prosperity gospel. This showed me that sometimes the effect does not show in the current generation but more prominently in the generation succeeding it.
Just like how compromise is the first step of sin (think Adam and Eve), I think that having a liberal interpretation of the bible is the first step of deadly compromise to a church because sooner or later anything flies when you read the bible, and it can be read into whatever you want it to be, all the while thinking that they are saved and feeling close to God. Which is what I’m very distressed about in the current church I’m in. Because I’ve seen the effects of what this does in my hometown church where they are a bit too far gone to be helped but this problem is just starting to happen in my current church but I can’t seem to do anything due to management of the church and I feel really weighed down by it. It’s like having a child that has gone the wrong way and you can see the destruction that is soon coming but the child just will not listen.
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