If I say “I am a Christian,” what proof do I have to show the world that I am? Francis Schaeffer was answering that question as the 20th century came to a close. Because of the divisiveness, the world being at odds over ideologies, languages, nationalities, ages and colors, plus the Christian church’s own divisiveness, he wrote the book, The Mark of the Christian. The Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches as well as Evangelicals are going through “titanic and hateful power struggles,” he writes.
Why are a people who call themselves Christians unable to show a forgiving love towards each other if they worship the same God? I am afraid that the prophet Jeremiah located the problem. People came to the place where they believed they were free of God. People won’t forget the things that are important to them, he grieved “but have forgotten God days without number. Jeremiah 2:32
If we believe there is no God who rules over all, then there is no absolute truth that applies to all people. If God were not, then anything goes. This is what Paul was warning his young friend Timothy about.
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. 2 Timothy 4:3
As one writer says “When I was young, I only thought of my future: Whom would I marry? What vocation would I pursue? Where would I live? Now that I am the father of four children, I think only of their futures.”
I, too, am now old, very old, and I think not only of the future of our four children, but the future of our16 grandchildren and the future of our great grandchildren. I say this considering the prognosis for Christianity in the 21st century. People will be calling themselves Christians without knowing what it means to be a Christian. Granted, we talk of spirituality, but it is based on personal experience and preference. This trend has increased our senses of entitlement. Under the guise of being “Christian” a people are governed by what “suits their own desires,” as Paul warned Timothy about. Couple this with living in an age of consumerism, the church must sell what people want to hear in order for it to survive and grow, so it thinks. That same thinking causes individual congregations to do likewise, promote a faith to suit themselves–“faith in faith itself.”
In the 20th century there were a number of Christian apologists who theologically defended the truths embodied in Christianity. We call this church doctrine. Francis Schaeffer, C. S. Lewis, R. C. Sproul and Ravi Zacharias are examples of those who defended the doctrine of the Christian church. They were faithful teachers who were transmitting sound doctrine from the past to the next generation that followed after them. They were known as sympathetic intellectuals who were willing to teach students about God. Their teaching came from the Word of God–doctrine from God about God that directs us to the glories of God. One writer puts it this way. “God has chosen to minister doctrine to us through His prophets and Apostles in Holy Scripture, until the day when God speaks to us face-to-face in His eternal kingdom.” To know sound doctrine begins with the reading of the Word of God. And the only purpose in reading the Word of God is to know God, and the way to know God is to know that which causes you to love Him.
That knowing is the work of the Holy Spirit. Doctrine that flows to us through the Holy Spirit is measured by the Word of God. Thus the truth that flows from scripture becomes that which rules our lives. The preaching of the Word of God, the observing of the sacraments, and the hunger for the Word causes us to be drawn into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Doctrine does not save the Christian; it is to be received by faith.
Scott Swain says it well in a blog entitled “What is sound doctrine,” January 27, 2017. “God loves us; and in His goodness He has given us the good gift of doctrine that we might learn of Him and of His gospel, and that we might please Him in our walk. Doctrine is the teaching of our heavenly Father, revealed in Jesus Christ, and transmitted to us by the Holy Spirit in Holy Scripture, and it is to be received, confessed, and followed in the church, to the glory of God’s name”.