Eight Principles for Holding the Truth in Love

hands.jpegAt the end of 2 Peter 3:18 Peter prays that the church might grow in grace and knowledge. Truly, when that happens Christians not only learn truths about God, they come to know God and share his character through studied communion with him. Likewise, in becoming like our heavenly Father we learn what is most important to God, and how, in our fallen world, can and should give grace to people who do not perceive as we do (rightly or wrongly) what is most important.

Extending grace to others has application in all areas of life, including theology. Yet, too often in an attempt to give grace to others, well-meaning (and well-deceived) Christians can compromise the truth. Therefore, learning to contend for the faith while growing in the fruit of the Spirit can be a difficult. Yet, nothing is more important than knowing how to hold the sound doctrines God has given to us.

lutzer

On this subject, how to hold the truth in love, there are very few books. Albert Mohler’s article on Theological Triage is instrumental here, but for books, the list is short. One book that should be included, however, is Erwin Lutzer’s The Doctrines that Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines that Separate Christians. In this book published in 1998, Lutzer considers nine different theological debates. They include

  • Is Christ Truly God?
  • Is Christ Truly Man?
  • Was Mary the Mother of God?
  • Was Peter the First Pope?
  • Justification: By Faith, Sacraments, or Both?
  • Why Can’t We Agree about the Lord’s Supper?
  • Why Can’t We Agree about Baptism?
  • Predestination or Free Will?
  • Can a Saved Person Ever Be Lost?

With pastoral wisdom, Lutzer explains various angles to the subject and argues with great winsomeness for his own position. In fact, showing the complexity of the predestination and free will question, he spends four chapters, considering differences that arose at different points in church history. Continue reading

Theological Triage (pt. 3): Love Covers a Multitude of Differences

loveToday, we finish our three-part series on “theological triage.”

In part 1, I suggested genuine Christians stand united in mere Christianity against those who deny the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and justification by faith. At the same time, I explained in part 2 how churches and individuals must pursue unity in the gospel, even when we differ on matters of church government, church ordinances, or charismatic gifts. This gospel unity that overlooks ecclesial differences does not deny the importance of these secondary matters, but it keeps in mind that some doctrines are more essential than others. Some doctrines separate Christians from non-Christians (first-level), some separate genuine believers into different congregations (second-level), and others remain points of disagreement even in the same local church (third-level). This tripartite division has been labeled “theological triage,” and it is this third section we consider today.

The Doctrinal Core

Members of any orthodox church must share the core convictions delineated in the first level (e.g., the Trinity, the Incarnation, the resurrection of Christ, salvation by grace alone, and so on). Likewise, every church must also come to biblical conviction about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, church polity, etc. In most churches, these doctrines (first and second level) are found in their statement of faith.

The practical function of such a confession (or statement of faith) is that when the church gathers there is no need to debate why the Bible is central, why men lead, and why babies are not “baptized.” The confession functions as a general consensus—a doctrinal core if you will—of what the church believes the Bible to teach about the most important tenets of the faith. Still under the banner of a church’s confession (which derive it’s ministerial authority from the Scriptures themselves), there are other doctrines that are not defined. Wisely, confessional statements are abbreviated statements of faith that do not attend to every doctrine. Accordingly, there are other views, beliefs, or questions that members may hold differently.

Some of these doctrines include the doctrines of grace, the way spiritual gifts continue in the church today, and the timing of the millennium. The point of this post is not to address these doctrines, nor to suggest what to include or exclude in the confession. The point to be made here concerns how to handle these third-level doctrinal disagreements in the local church. Continue reading

Theological Triage (pt. 2): Unity in the Gospel, Separation in the Church

t4gOn Monday, I considered the idea of theological triage—the process of holding different Christian beliefs at different levels of importance—and how the first level differentiates “mere Christianity” from errant cults and false religions. Today I will continue to consider theological triage as it relates to second-level Christian beliefs, those doctrines on which gospel-believing churches agree to disagree.

Recognizing and Affirming Historical and Doctrinal Differences Increases Unity

Within orthodox Christianity, second level doctrines separate genuine believers. Points of division at this level include baptism (What does it signify and who is the proper candidate?), the Lord’s Supper (What do the elements represent?), and the use of spiritual gifts (Do tongues continue today?)—to name a few prominent ones. How such doctrines are espoused and questions are answered causes the need for different assemblies of worship. Historically, it has often been disagreement on one of these issues that have separated (or created) different churches (or denominations).

For Baptists, our pedigree originates about 400 years ago, when a growing number of Protestants began to realize from Scripture that baptism by immersion was the proper mode for professing believers. Stepping away from state churches, local Baptist congregation were free and responsible to God for their actions, and on their biblical conviction they recovered the practice of believer’s baptism. Because of its historical roots, Baptist churches share much with other evangelical denominations (e.g., all the matters agreed upon in the first level), but there are enough distinctives that make it impossible for Baptists to congregate with paedobaptists. Continue reading