Monday, January 21, 2013

A Call to be Rigorous and Discriminating in our Doctrinal Knowledge

This was taken from John Piper's sermon on Galatians 1:6-10 entitled "When Not to Believe an Angel". Piper's challenge to his church is to not be babes in their thinking but to think and think hard about the essential and foundational doctrines of Christianity. The gospel is something that as Christians we must be clear on. Heresy and false teaching are very real threats to the church that often arise not from outside of the church but from the inside. Our experiences and feelings as Christians should never be elevated above or replace our thinking about the gospel or foundational Christian teachings.

And what makes that underlying truth in the text so powerful is that the "different gospel" in the churches of Galatia was not a religion from a foreign land. It was a close counterfeit to the real thing. The people in verse 7 who were perverting the gospel were professing Christians. They probably belonged to the church in Jerusalem and knew its leaders (2:12). This "different gospel" was not on the order of Buddhism or Hinduism or Islam. It was an in-house distortion. It was promoted by men who called themselves Christian "brothers" (2:4).
So another implication of verses 6 and 7 for us is that doctrinal maturity is not a luxury at Bethlehem. It is a necessity. If a "different gospel," which is no gospel but only a perversion, can spring up inside the church, then surely we must make it our aim to become rigorous and discriminating in our doctrinal knowledge. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:20, "Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil, but in thinking be mature." Galatians is one of the best books in the Bible for helping us refine and clarify what the heart of the gospel is, which can't be replaced or altered. There is a tragic pattern in churches and in history, I think. Renewal breaks forth on a church or on an age through a fresh encounter with the gospel and the Spirit. Hearts are filled with the love of Christ, and mouths are filled with praise. The concern for evangelism and justice rises.
But in all the glorious stirrings of heart there begins to be an impatience with doctrinal refinements. Clear doctrine requires thought, and thought is seen to be the enemy of feeling, so it is resisted. There is the widespread sense that the Holy Spirit will guard the church from all error, and so rigorous study and thought about the gospel are felt to be not only a threat to joy but a failure of faith. The result over a generation is the emergence of a people whose understanding of biblical teaching is so hazy and imprecise that they are sitting ducks for the Galatian heresy. It arises right in their midst. Paul said to the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20:30, "From among your own selves will arise men speaking distorted things to draw away the disciples after them." He says in verse 27 that he has done his part to prepare them by "declaring the whole counsel of God." I hope to be able to say the same thing some day about Bethlehem: "I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God."

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