The First Mark: The Preaching of Pure Doctrine
Paul wrote to Timothy: 'What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also' (2 Timothy 2:2).
One of the challenges that we often face, in the now splintered Protestant wing of the church, is that of subjectivity. It is the problem that Paul described in 2 Corinthians 10:12, 'Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding'.
If I were to ask a fellow minister or a church member if pure doctrine was being preached in their church, how do you think they would answer? Very rarely would anyone put their 'hand in the air' and admit that it could be a possibility in their situation, that pure doctrine was absent or defective. Why? Well, let me press the point further and ask a second question. On what basis do you measure, as to whether a church preaches pure doctrine? How would you answer? Most commonly there is little or no guardrail against error in evangelical churches, therefore a subjective independent assessment has entered the church unknowingly, through a side-door.
Let me address five issues to ensure that a church is preaching pure doctrine.
1. Is the church committed to preaching?
It can no longer be taken for granted that a church is even committed to the act of preaching in today's morass of confusion within evangelicalism. It was reported to me recently that in a Christian Centre in Sheffield (notice that they have dropped the use of the word church, which is often an indication that they have departed from the Bible), that the preacher, who is more of a business-motivation speaker, spoke on a fashion-item of clothing. He made no reference to the Bible. At this point any sane professing Christian needs to leave that 'Centre' and find a proper church, one that is free from soulish entertainment.
A common indicator that a church has departed from soundness is often their room layout. Does the church have a pulpit? Commonly, the music band now takes centre stage and the preaching has to be done using a music stand. This can be a tell-tale sign that preaching is being down-graded. Another common error is that the man being introduced as being about to preach, is instead described as being about to 'share God's word'. Those who are called by God must preach and herald the truth of God and not share!
2. Does the church have a detailed reformed confession of faith?
After the end of World War II, the church had been ravaged by liberalism. As a result churches had to come together to confirm their commitment to the inerrancy of scripture and they often declared that they held to the basics of the Christian faith. Perhaps nine or ten points on the Trinity, the deity of Christ, baptism and the Second Coming of Christ, for example. While this may have been a good response to liberalism, it is insufficient for a church to be founded on apostolic doctrine using such basic points. Every church needs a solid reformed confession of faith!
How else can we measure the content of the message being preached without a rich confession of faith? How can we train men for the ministry without such a commitment to the apostles' doctrine? For all of the magisterial reformers such as Calvin, Farel, Luther, Bullinger and so, it would have been unthinkable to have a pure church without a proper confession of faith. The evangelical church in the UK must return to her Protestant roots, if we are to have a real and lasting work of reformation.
3. Are the preachers being trained to handle the pure doctrines of scripture?
I think that the previous answer makes the answer to this question self-explantory. I personally pray for a confessional presbyterian seminary in England and may you join with me in prayer for this. If this is something that resonates with you, then let us collectively join together in prayer, and let us see what our God will do.
4. Are Reformed Confessions and Church Creeds living documents for the elders and church members?
This point has to be mentioned also. A church may be committed to historic creeds and confessions of faith but it may be so, only nominally. Every generation needs to return to the first principles of the faith. A Lutheran minister in Berlin recently described the problem of the lack of doctrinal knowledge in churches in the West. We need ministers, elders and deacons, and church members, who are committed to the joy of the doctrines of the Christian faith.
5. Does the love of God pervade the preaching of the gospel?
This may not seem obvious but it is extremely important. It is not enough to have pure doctrine but pure doctrine must be preached in the love of God, otherwise it is not biblical. Listen to John the Apostle: 'Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him' (1 John 4:7-9).
I sincerely hope that this blog is helpful for us to begin to critically analyse our situation within evangelicalism. I have stated for years that the first step to solving a problem is to recognise that there is indeed a problem in the first place. May we pray for a recovery of the first mark of the church in it's fulness in our generation.