Timely Comments and Appraisals of the Church

Observations and Analyses

Roger R. Chambers

The Centrality of Doctrine. Doctrine is fundamental, not auxiliary. Christianity without doctrine does not exist. Word has somehow got out that orthodox doctrine is the enemy of spirituality. Doctrine is an embarrassed intruder in many modern congregations. Barely tolerated, it cowers on the back pew; the territory around the pulpit has long since been claimed by commanding personality, practical mysticism, professional music, and pop psychology.

A round of applause awaits the convention speaker who will announce that we are saved by Jesus, not doctrine. Brotherhood scholars impressed by German theology are throwing up a wall between Jesus and doctrine. This one-eyed theology is catchy; it breathes rhetorical authority. By design it eases the force of doctrine, mitigates the raw authority of Scripture, accredits human testimony, and expands the range of union. But it won't work.

Jesus does not descend in euphoric mystery; He comes clothed in the Apostles' doctrine and dwells in our hearts by faith. The Bible does not elevate the Person of Christ over the doctrine of Christ. Biblical faith is propositional. Existentialism settles its faith upon an immediate experience with the Person (in which case propositional relevation is superfluous). But even the disciples who walked with Jesus did not know Him apart from a complex of theological statements defining His Person and work. A concept of truth can never be personal in a way that does not depend on content.

Doctrine, therefore, is central, not orbital - not a parenthesis in the Christian message, but the thesis itself. We face no choice between strict orthodoxy and heartfelt Christianity. Strong doctrine is not legalistic Pharisaism; it is obedience. True doctrine firmly held does not create a dead church; it is the only source of genuine vitality. Enthusiasm in the local congregation can just as easily be vivified nonsense as true body life, and where doctrine is discounted, sentiment reigns as the canon of faith.

The Necessity of Conflict. Negative trends are inevitable. The human heart is precisely what the Bible says it is and the indwelling Spirit does not mitigate our capacity for self-deception and self-justification. And we can get used to anything. Our generation of the church wants to enjoy Christianity without having to slug it out in some dirty brawl to defend the faith-once-delivered. New Testament Christianity has always existed in the documents, not in the purity of a first-century golden age.

From day one, the church has been forced to choose between conflict and compromise; before he could get out of town, Paul's enemies subverted his doctrine in the churches he founded. It's been that way ever since. We must not get the vapors over doctrinal confrontation, as if some strange thing were happening to us. Our congregations, on the average, are no better or worse than the Churches in A.D. 65; and where did we get the idea that our generation of the church has within it some natural quality that makes apostasy abnormal?

Modern Christians are irrationally critical of theological debate. They have the feeling that controversy in the church is anomalous and tacky. I am regularly scolded by brethren of fine-tuned soul, warned that the Spirit of Christ equals quiet civility. Polemics are out of fashion.

Trends go unchecked because believers care more about manner than content; syrupy error passes ahead of straight-spoken truth. Confrontation, however, is the business of the church, right along with love and evangelism. To deny this, is to condemn Peter and Paul - and Jesus. Since the church can ultimately be counted on to stray, we have reason to anchor on what the Bible says, not on what the church is believing and doing.

The Devices of Satan. Satan is a predictable liar, i.e., we can foresee not only that he will seduce the church, but the form that seduction is likely to take. Our enemy keeps raising his primordial question: "Hath God said?" The rebellion he incites among the children of God, moreover, can be expected to wear the mask of extravagant piety, by which he eases the church away from divine authority. We must not be surprised when noisy god-talk drowns out the quiet voice of sound teaching.

Trends, by nature, follow culture. In every generation the church has surrendered its distinctiveness by conforming its thought and life to that of the larger community. The modern church sanctifies the ideas that dominate the world instead of judging them. A church loosened from Scripture will, of necessity, be a trendy church, convinced that all things work together for good to him who is "with it."

The Nebulosity of Trends. Trends, again by nature, are hazy and troublesome. Trends intimidate by the subtle tyranny of tendency. Trends are propelled along by their own weight, moved by the power of historical momentum. Trends are hard to get at; they do not speak in clear affirmation; the rhetoric of trends is all smudge and blur.

Trend-fighters have not the luxury of clear targets. They fight a battle that is almost impossible to win, yet must be won before most good-hearted Christians can bring themselves to believe that the war is on. Trends do not exist in the abstract; trends are people - nice people - leaning this way or that. By the time trends evolve into fixed heresies, they are as conspicuous as unchangeable. In the transition, however, trends resist definition. Believers are impatient with the refined arguments that expose trends. The ideas opposed by trend-fighters are rudimentary, and therefore seemingly harmless; for this reason trend-fighters will be thought of as bigots. The church can't seem to remember that the congeniality of genteel misbelievers goes into the grave with them, while error and skepticism live on to ravage the faith of their grandchildren.

Sound doctrine is worth the struggle. If we will not contend for the faith, it can only mean that we are not convinced that New Testament Christianity is of any great worth. It may be that we have little appreciation for the infinite difference between truth and error. Those who care about the truth care about it intensely simply because they care about it at all. A man can be relaxed about trends away from truth only if he is, at heart, an unbeliever.

The Affirmability of Truth. Those who, in the quest for unity, reduce the content of required faith to an uncontroversial minimum ("Jesus is Lord") are not, as they believe, elevating the living Christ over dead legalism. They are, in fact, accusing God of delivering a word revelation so obscure and ragged that no reasonable deity could expect men to agree on what the words mean.

I affirm that doctrinal truth is affirmable. I reject the subtle persuasions of cultural Hegelianism, i.e., that truth is a never-ending process, that all conclusions are tentative, that truth resides in the hunt, never in the discovery. If' we're not sure about true doctrine, let's study until we are convinced. If we have learned the truth, let's take a stand on it. In either case, let's have no more of this footshuffling nonsense that says we can't be too sure about doctrine. There is a difference between intellectual humility and weak-mindedness.

Editor's Note: Brother Chambers is a Professor at Florida Christian College; a school associated with the Independent Christian Church Churches, I think. It is a speech made at Florida Christian/National Missionary Convention in 1985. He said some things that need to be considered seriously by all who are concerned with the future of God's people. It is taken with permission, from The Banner of Truth.