In modern American evangelicalism, one finds that conviction on any matter of doctrine is severely lacking. The majority of professing believers in the U.S. tend to be very lukewarm about “truth” in general, and more specifically, lukewarm about the truths that are central to the Christian faith. For example, many people flip-flop on the question of biblical inerrancy, they are wishy-washy on the question of Christ being the only way of salvation, they flounder when you engage them on the subject of God’s nature and character as a triune being, and they seem to be unable to articulate anything meaningful on the doctrine of justification by faith. Such doctrinal illiteracy is one of the main things paralyzing and marginalizing the church in our culture.
This reality makes me thankful to Christ for the churches and pastors who are teaching the whole truth of God’s Word and training disciples with right doctrine. By God’s grace alone, we are striving to be one of those churches. But strengths in some areas can lead to shortcomings in others. In other words, for most traits we would consider our strengths, there are also accompanying weaknesses. Standing strongly on the truth of Scripture is a commendable quality, but when one makes absolute doctrinal uniformity the ultimate goal, unbiblical behavior can ensue. Allow me to explain
Many of us are familiar with the saying, “Not every hill is a hill to die on.” You might be surprised to know that this saying applies to some doctrinal discussions. The exclusivity of the gospel, the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, and the substitutionary atonement of Christ are critical doctrines that the church must proclaim even if it has to stand alone, even if it is threatened with reprisals and persecutions. These are hills to die on. The doctrines of believer’s baptism, church polity, election, church discipline, and the right proclamation of the gospel are likewise biblical truths that we want to teach and stand upon very firmly and forthrightly. However, there are smaller issues where we can have fruitful discussion and even overlook honest differences without drawing the proverbial line in the sand. Not every hill is a hill to die on.
Some make their particular preference for a worship style a hill to die on. Some have such a strong view of male leadership in the church that they would fight to keep a woman from even praying in the assembly. Many choose to die on the hill of eschatology. Others die on the hill of antinomianism by elevating their “freedom” in Christ to levels that disregard or disrespect the consciences of less mature believers. Their counterparts die on the hill of legalism by elevating their personal laws and convictions above what is stated in Scripture. The list could go on and on, but you get the picture. When a person’s convictions are so strong that every hill is a hill to die on, the love and unity of Christ that should characterize us is waylaid and forsaken.
Being in a church with strong doctrinal convictions is a great blessing. Constantly being at odds over tertiary issues is not. Being in a church that faithfully proclaims the whole counsel of God’s Word is a gift of God. Doctrinal arrogance is not. Studying and understanding and applying Scripture is a joyful and glorious pursuit. Pridefully correcting another for the slightest difference or misspeak is not. Being a beacon of truth in our community is a testimony to the grace of Christ. Being unloving toward faithful Christian brethren who do not share all our convictions tarnishes the name of Christ.
Thankfully, I am not writing to a congregation that struggles in this area. Right now, we are experiencing an incredible sense of unity and love in the life of our church. To God be the glory! However, sin is always crouching at the door, so I am writing articles like this one and the one I wrote last week because I want us to protect our unity and love. Absolute doctrinal uniformity can never be our goal; the glory of Christ must be our goal. By the grace of Christ, my heart’s desire for us is to be that kind of church. The kind of church that contends earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3) while at the same time doing nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, regarding one another as more important than ourselves (Phil 2:3). As St. Augustine said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” I love you all dearly!