The study of doctrine and theology has declined in God’s visible church over the last few decades at an alarming rate. An ever-increasing number of churches have adopted a seeker-centric approach to ministry in lieu of sound biblical teaching. According to so-called church growth experts, the unchurched masses are generally open to believing in God and accepting Christ. It is the church as an institution that drives them away from commitment. This type of person is called a ‘seeker’. In order to get these people to come to church and make that saving commitment church leaders must lure them in by appealing to their flesh. Learning theology and doctrine doesn’t interest them so it is laid aside as a primary ministry of the church. In other words, entertainment in all of its forms: music, dramatic performances, movie clips, light shows, media montages, etc. can be utilized to make the church a more comfortable, less intimidating place for seekers to find refuge. Psychological manipulation replaces the preaching of the word as a means to salvation. Sermons are often centered around felt-needs messages that ‘meet people where they are at’. Ministers may preach on topics such as strengthening marriages, gaining financial freedom, finding a stress-free lifestyle, even having a better sex life. This is all done to ‘ease’ the seeker into the fold before presenting him the gospel. It is a sandy foundation which collapses upon close scrutiny.
The scriptures plainly state that no man seeks after God. No one naturally likes a holy God. Man is a God-hating rebel at heart. Entertaining sinners is nowhere advocated in the bible as a means to win the lost. It cannot change a heart hardened by sin. The preaching of the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Preaching about things other than the cross of Christ is an abdication of the responsibility of every preacher. By definition. a preacher is a herald of the good news of Jesus Christ. Someone who consistently produces messages about sound economics or better sex cannot rightfully be called a preacher; motivational speaker or psychological therapist maybe, but not a preacher. In the end, many of these seeker churches never actually get around to preaching the gospel anyway. Why? Well, the message of the gospel is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to its hearers. Man’s prideful nature does not want to have anything to do with a proclamation that he is a lowly sinner who can do nothing to save himself in the sight of a holy and righteous God who will judge every man according to his works. No one wants to depend on an alien righteousness to save him from an eternal state of misery and suffering.
This is diametrically opposed to the entire ‘seeker’ paradigm that works so hard to coddle seekers. If a gospel is ever preached it is so watered down as to be almost unrecognizable. Ministers often wrap up a feel-good, self-esteem boosting message by entreating hearers to accept Christ as some kind of life enhancing accessory to help them succeed at life. They are then encouraged to repeat a canned prayer so that they can become Christians. This type of prayer usually has no reference to people as lost sinners in need of mercy from a just God, but simply has them ‘accept Christ’, whatever that may mean. Repentance is rarely a requirement and is never the focus of such prayers.
The result is that scores of churches are filled with people who are not truly Christians because they have not been led to the narrow gate of repentance and faith but instead down the broad road that leads to destruction. Since seeker-centered churches are so focused on the seeker, the sheep, the true believers, are often neglected and left to starve for the meat of God’s word. The tragedy is that these churches contain both unconverted people begging to be entertained to death and believers who have no idea what to believe or if they do hold any convictions, they have no idea why they believe them.
The church needs theology. It is hungry for sound biblical teaching. God’s sheep need shepherds who will feed them a steady diet of the milk and meat of God’s word. So what exactly is theology? What do we mean when we say theology should be the central focus of church ministry? Theology comes from two greek words: logos and theos. Logos means ‘science, doctrine or knowledge’. Theos means ‘God’. Simply put, theology is the knowledge of God. In all of the world, I can think of no nobler or rewarding pursuit than to know God, the one who has created us and continues to sustain us. For the Christian, we should have one myopic pursuit in life: to know our heavenly Father and Judge, our Redeemer and Messiah, our Helper and Comforter. He is worthy of all our attention, devotion and worship. We should fill our mind and senses with the beauty of his countenance and the fragrance of his perfect wisdom.
The question now becomes, how do we come to know God? We have two primary sources for the knowledge of God. The first is through natural revelation. This means that God has revealed aspects of himself through creation. Creation testifies that there is a God. Creation reveals his infinite power, wisdom, understanding, variety and creativity, among other things.
The apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:19-20, For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Paul is referring to the ungodly who have suppressed the truth that there is a God. He shows that by observing creation (the evidence that literally surrounds them on every side) they are without excuse as to why they do not believe upon him. Creation so vividly displays his invisible characteristics of omnipotence and divine essence that they have no grounds to deny his existence. There is enough evidence in natural revelation to show us that there is a God that has created us. This obligates us to do as he wills. This conclusion leads to another important question: How can we know the will of God in order to obey him?
The answer is that God has granted us special revelation to help us know who God is; not only his attributes and power, but his purpose, plans and expectations for his creation. Special revelation defined is simply, ‘God’s revelation of himself to mankind by direct verbal or written communication’. Without special revelation we cannot understand concepts such as man’s fallen condition or how to be reconciled to God. We cannot comprehend Jesus Christ as the God-Man or grasp the meaning of the cross or the significance of his resurrection. Without special revelation these stories would become myths, an amusing fireside tale. Yet, even though the life of Christ is verified historical fact, apart from God’s special revelation we would hear the tale of this man who claimed to be God’s son, who was arrested, put on trial, executed on a roman cross and resurrected three days later and simply shrug, saying “wow, that’s an interesting story, but what does it all mean?”
Thankfully, God has revealed himself to man in a special, supernatural way in the form of the holy bible. God spoke verbally through his prophets and then through his own Son. These communications have been recorded in the written word along with God-breathed history, poetry, epistles and apocalyptic literature to comprise what we now call the holy bible. The bible is God’s revelation of himself to us. It has in essence, descended to us from heaven so that we may know the mysteries of God that otherwise we never could know. Thus, a more complete definition of theology would be, ‘a knowledge of God gained by a study of the holy bible‘.
Deuteronomy 29:9 states the blessing of grace God has bestowed to man in the form of his word.
The Secret things belong to the Lord our God but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
The secret things of God will remain hidden this side of eternity but the things revealed in his word are for our salvation, so that we may know the will of God to accept and embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and for our continued growth in his knowledge and grace.
One of the most important doctrines to arise out of the Protestant Reformation was Sola Scriptura. This doctrine set Martin Luther, John Calvin and the other leaders of the Reformation at odds with the Catholic church. Sola Scriptura is a Latin phrase which means, ‘scripture alone.’ The idea is that only the scriptures that have been passed down to us from God himself through the means of various human authors in the form of 66 books is authoritative and binding upon the Christian as the sole source of all faith and practice.
The London Baptist Confession of 1689 states it succinctly, “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience. ” The Catholic church insisted that the scriptures should be weighed alongside other writings, established church tradition and papal decrees. The scriptures were only one of several authoritative sources of knowledge, faith and practice. Protestants do not accept this. Everything needed for life and holiness, salvation and sanctification is found in God’s word. Failure to embrace sola scriptura leaves us wide open to be taken away by every wind of doctrine that blows our way, whether through the means of articulate, persuasive speakers or the hottest new books on the New York Times bestseller list.
One of the reasons I emphasize the study of theology is because it is the means by which we grow in grace. The more we learn of God and his fathomless attributes: his majestic holiness, his awe-inspiring omnipotence, his comprehensive omniscience, his loving mercy, infinite grace and tender compassion, the more we will love him. The deeper we comprehend his severe justice, fierce wrath and just judgments the more we shall fear him with a reverential awe.
To know God is to love him. To know him better is to love him more! The more we love him the greater our desire to please him with a life of holiness by grace. The true secret to godly living is not setting out to obey a long list of do’s and don’ts or following 7 step programs to become a better person, it comes from theology: The knowledge of the person and work of God. Fully comprehending and appreciating all God has done on our behalf for our redemption coupled with a sober understanding of the eternal misery he has delivered us from will change us from the inside out. Our obedience to Christ doesn’t have its roots in our desire and effort to earn favor with God but in heartfelt gratitude for all God has accomplished to secure our eternal redemption.
The most important reason I stress the discipline of theology is because it’s the means by which we are redeemed. Ultimately, obedience to Christ’s commands comes, first, from a heartfelt love toward God himself, which is the first and greatest commandment. But how can we love God with all our hearts, when by default we are at enmity with him? It is the illuminating light of the Holy Spirit who reveals to our hearts the blessed hope of God’s love found only in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Spirit works through the word of God as we hear it to open our hearts to attend to the words that have been preached.
Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom 10:17)
Faith is inseparable from a knowledge of God and his word. Apart from the scriptures we can’t exercise faith. Without faith we cannot be saved.
In summary, theology must be emphasized in all our churches for two primary purposes (although there are many others):
1) to cause us to love God and put our trust in Christ for redemption;
2) to increase our adoration and gratitude towards Him that we may grow in faith and holiness.
These two purposes are not an end unto themselves but serve as a means to God’s ultimate goal for his self revelation: ‘Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!. (Psalm 57:5)