by Jeremy Edmondson
An odd question, right? But hear me out so that you can make an honest diagnosis.
American Evangelicalism is in a strange place. On one side, a renewed emphasis on good works has taken hold in many Christian assemblies riding the back of the social justice movement and seeking to help the underserved in our cities. On the other side, Biblical conservatism is paramount in all matters and all instances. Each one of these modes deserves an examination.
For the Christian who is socially and politically active, the goal is to make a difference. Often, this comes from the idea that we are supposed to build God's kingdom on earth. This is the result of postmillennial or amillennial philosophy with their ever-so-popular already/not yet views regarding the Kingdom of God. Postmodern thought and subjective exegesis paves the path to these ends. Unfortunately, basing our theology on subjectivity and getting away from the author's intended meaning leads to sketchy interpretations of the Bible which riddle the Christian fabric with holes. This thinking was once primarily found in liberal churches, but it is quickly being accepted as the new normal in evangelical churches as well.
Certainly, it feels good to do something for someone less fortunate, but this reason is too often the only reason for such actions, because an appreciation of Christ's finished work and a vibrant walk with God are simply not part of their foundation. Too often, the desire to make a difference is ultimately narcissistic, having little to no roots in such teaching as "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me" (John 14:21a, ESV). When there is a lack of a Scriptural foundation, it is either the result of a pastoral staff that has valued church growth strategies over developing believers in the faith, or the failed responsibility of the believer to pursue spiritual growth by allowing for the Word of God to cultivate genuine conviction in their lives. These efforts cannot be said to be carried out in the Spirit because they are doctrinally bankrupt at the core.
While the walls of this established movement look useful, the foundation is deteriorated and largely absent.
To the rescue of this downward trend is the rise of the doctrinal church. The doctrinal church is usually found to be expository in its teaching of the Scriptures while constantly promoting a memorization and reading plan so that verses are readily accessible to the congregants. Coupled closely is the lost art of teaching theology and conveying a synthetic framework of the Bible. This approach is admirable due to its staunch position regarding the inerrancy and infallibility of the Word of God, but wavering attendance and commitment in these local churches has become an epidemic. Some of these gatherings still hold the Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting, and many distribute replicated prayer lists to hold a place in their Bibles or to occupy its usual space on the refrigerator.
On the other hand, the doctrinal church has largely become selective in their obedience to the very truths that they know and love, finding that a knowledge of such truths is enough to be considered spiritually mature. James quickly warns against this attitude, writing, "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (James 1:22, ESV). The case for inerrancy becomes increasingly difficult to defend when the Bible's "calls to action" are left on the shelf. The doctrinal saint may be "smarter," but is guaranteed to be obese due to a lack of spiritual exercise. In short, many doctrinal churches have deceived themselves into thinking that they are growing while their constituency is slowly dying.
Foundationally, one would be hard-pressed to find a crack, but the walls of such establishments are penetrable and have been for years.
The Crux of the Matter
In boiling down the novel ideas that have taken center stage, the cardinal issue in each case is the inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures. The social justice house has a problem with innerancy and the doctrinal house has a problem with authority. Even the term innerancy has fallen on hard times, with inerrancy clarified by some scholars as "perfection with respect to purpose," rather than the position that the Scriptures are without error in their original autographs. On the other hand, many who affirm a true Biblical innerancy often neglect being doers of the Word.
Results of Neglect
For the socially-active crowd, genuine joy is absent and apart from the genuine joy that comes from serving in the Spirit, each person's volunteerism hits a ceiling. Burnout can occur quickly because there is no eternal purpose, founded on God's word, behind the giving of their time. Sometimes burnout manifests itself in the realm of conversations about helping others with little to no action. Concepts like perseverance and suffering are foreign to their Christian experience because they are inconvenient in satisfying their desire to feel good about serving. This consequence of doctrinal absence is what fosters the the next big thing mentality, resulting in everything from exuberant CEO church leaders who are aesthetically convincing and destitute of the Spirit, to smoke machines going off while the worship band plays and the congregants lift their hands in the air. The appeal is exclusively to emotion. Apart from understanding the practical power of the cross of Christ for the believer (Gal 2:20; 6:14), the resurrection life (Rom 6:4, 11-14), and the indwelling Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13-14; 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5), all pursuits for the sake of helping others are carried out in the flesh. The Scriptures are clear that those believers who are operating in the flesh are in no way pleasing to God (John 6:63; Rom 8:7). Because so many churches are teaching a reformation of the flesh rather than the death of the flesh, this concept of the Spirit-led life is missing.
With the doctrinally-aware crowd, knowledge is power. Verses memorized, the number of services attended, and the wrinkle-free nature of one's button-up shirt become the litmus test for spiritual growth. When the subject of missions comes around, or when missionaries speak on a Sunday morning, the attendees will often contribute money but don't give of themselves. Many of the attitudes that have been brewing in these believers are ones of judgment and entitlement, which are both in opposition to the Apostle Paul's teaching (1 Cor 4:3-5; Phil 2:3-4). The focus revolves around how everything else is wrong because we are so right. Any true outlet in getting involved in the public arena of ideas is quickly dismissed behind the guise of holiness, not wanting to taint oneself or their family with the world's ideas. This house has a problem with its plumbing. Though there's a great deal of doctrine, there is no exercise or evacuation due to very little doing.
How Do We Repair the Houses?
Plainly put, the houses must merge. This solution may sound like a pipe-dream, but it is the only Biblical course of action. Because each assembly is in Christ, each of the houses are brothers and sisters of one another with Christ as their Head (Col 1:18). While looks and preferences may be different, the Word of God is not. To merge successfully, each house must humble themselves before the Lord, which requires for every believer to accept his or her personal responsibility in pursuing fellowship with the Lord (John 15:4-5; Jas 1:21).
The socially active house needs a foundation in the inerrancy and trustworthiness of the Scriptures, something that the doctrinal house can supply in abundance. With this foundation, the exercise of spiritual gifts can now occur (First Corinthians 12-14) finding its motivation in the activity of the Spirit when fused with the Word of God and not in the flesh. The exercise of spiritual gifts within the Body catapults the believer past the ceiling created by the flesh into a realm of greater living (abundant life, John 10:10). Again, the affirmation of inerrancy is the crux of the matter.
The doctrinal house requires the encouragement and sensitivity to become active and able, exercising the gifts of the Spirit that require serving rather than simply speaking. Inerrancy plays a role in having an active faith that walks "worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work" (Col 1:10a) because the believer is finally taking up the "whole counsel of God." This obedience gives way to the active believer "increasing in the knowledge of God" (Col 1:10b). The argument for inerrancy finds strength because the doctrinal believer has put feet to his or her belief, raising tall and sound walls around the firmly-poured foundation. The Apostle John states such a fact, writing, "Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18). Notice that "deed" is coupled with "truth" and not with "word" or "talk." There is a necessity for action within the Body of Christ in order to truthfully uphold the inerrancy of the Word of God.
When each of the houses have been repaired with the essentials that they were desperately missing, what do you think will happen? To sum it up: unity and love. Each of these serves as the primary evangelism strategies of the Church.
When the Church recognizes their need, whether it be doctrinal soundness or a vibrantly-exercised faith, unity occurs. The purpose of the house become about much more than just maintaining the structure that you currently have, but submitting it to the Master so that He can build it up. Wasn't this what we were promised all along (Matt 16:18)? The Word of God states that our unity will serve as a witness to the world.
"I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me" (John 17:23, emphasis added).
Our unity testifies to the divine mission and purposes of Christ our Lord.
Love also occurs when the Body sees its need for one another. Earlier we noted John 14:21, which says, "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." All obedience is relational, and our love for Christ is demonstrated in how we keep His commandments in relation to one another. Earlier in this same discourse Jesus stated:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35, emphasis added).
All people will know because the quality of the house has been supernaturally enhanced by the Lord Jesus. Our efforts to make church palatable to the unsaved person can now fall to the wayside because love has taken its place. The strategy of inviting our lost friend to church so that the pastor can tell him the gospel can be buried because the testimony is radiating through you. Love amongst the Body preaches!
Is your house suffering from theological neglect? Do your floors have holes and rotten boards? Have your walls been built with drywall or tissue paper? Where is the place of neglect in your house? Are your zealous pursuits doctrinally unfounded? Is your commitment to the Word of God rank with mildew and covered in dust?
I encourage you to take personal responsibility and fix your house.