Many Christians, today, are being spiritually malnourished. Pastors all across the world are lamenting, what they believe is, the impracticality of doctrine. Therefore, they refuse to fulfill the sacred obligation of the under -shepherd to “be diligent,” “study,” “make every effort,” “do your best,” to show ourselves approved cutting straight the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:15) and proclaiming it to those in the pews ( 2Tim. 4:1-, Tit.1:9).
But the notion that theology and doctrine are impractical is very misleading. I would go so far as to say that any elder in the Church of Christ that utters such things should resign since it is impossible to shepherd the sheep of Christ, of whom He purchased by His won blood, apart from doctrine. Observe how Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders and gives the qualifications for such a noble esteemed position, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Tt 1:9). And how he writes to Timothy, “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Ti 1:3–5).
Doctrine matters. It matters because it should be founded on the truth of Scripture. But what of the allegation that it is impractical or only produces “arm chair theologians?” Well, the majority of people that proclaim such accusations are typically the people that attempt to practice what they do not understand. Here’s what I mean. Many people will proclaim an unoffensive gospel that simply says, “God is love and He loves you. Trust Him.” This kind of “evangelism” is an attempt to to put into practice the Great Commission. However, since those proclaiming such things or something similar know we are to share Christ with others they attempt to do so yet their understanding of the Gospel is grossly lacking as is there purely humanistic definition of the Divine love.
People that often deride the necessity of doctrine and assert theology leads to apathetic inaction have obviously not studied Church history. Let me quote from one of those “dead orthodoxy” guys that well understood how practical theology is and how it helps us. John Owen in his massive writing on the doctrine of justification and at the beginning of his defense and exposition of it writes:
THAT we may treat of the doctrine of justification usefully unto its proper ends, which are the glory of God in Christ, with the peace and furtherance of the obedience of believers, some things are previously to be considered, which we must have respect unto in the whole process of our discourse. And, among others that might be insisted on to the same purpose, these that ensue are not to be omitted:—
1. The first inquiry in this matter, in a way of duty, is after the proper relief of the conscience of a sinner pressed and perplexed with a sense of the guilt of sin. For justification is the way and means whereby such a person doth obtain acceptance before God, with a right and title unto a heavenly inheritance (emphasis mine).
So much for doctrine being impractical. Understanding that our acceptance with God is dependent on the substitutionary (penal) death of Christ and His perfect righteousness, or as stated by the Apostle Paul this way- ” For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Co 5:20–21) is of the highest comfort. When Christians sin, especially in serious matters, our consciences can be tormented; one of our first inclinations is to think that we must now turn to the law in order to gain God’s favor once again. That we must be more obedient to make up for such serious offenses against God. But the docrtrine of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, teaches us that we are ever to reflect on the cross of Christ. He has satisfied the Father perfectly by taking our just punishment at the cross and fulfilling the righteous demands of God by keeping the law perfectly for sinners.
The doctrine of justification gives rest for the soul. The weary are no longer burdened by trying to hopelessly keep more law for their right standing before God. It has been accomplished for him by Christ our justification. The sinner finds rest. This is what is meant by our Lord when He cries out, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light “(Mt 11:28–30).
This pillar of Christian doctrine (justification by faith) does not lead to licentiousness. Rather instead of trying to be more godly to gain acceptance with God, we do so because we are accepted by Him in Christ and long to please and honor Him with our redeemed lives. We now love and strive to keep and honor His laws and commands to glorify His holy name among an ungodly people. Or as Iain Campbell writes:
The Ten Commandments are the same: they are moral absolutes, given us by our Creator God, in order that we may know fulfilment, purpose and direction in our lives. None of us can keep the commandments perfectly, which is why we need a Saviour. And those of us who trust the Saviour have more reason than most to keep the commandments. The God who gave them at Sinai was none other than Jesus.*
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt 11:28–30)
Oh what rest! Rest my friends, rest in Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria!
For His Glory,
*Owen, J. Vol. 5: The works of John Owen. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (7). Edinburg: T&T Clark.
*Campbell, I. D. (2005). On the first day of the week : God, the Christian and the Sabbath (181). Leominster, UK: Day One Publications.