Shortly, we will be finding out we will be stuck with for our next president. As the government is showing itself to be more and more corrupt, becoming increasingly anti-Christian and impeding more and more into our freedoms to live as Christians, we are concerned about what the future holds for us in this country. To these concerns, I share with you the words of Psalm 146: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.”
No matter who’s elected, God is still God, people are still sinners, and the gospel still saves and gives life.
But I want to write to you about something more important than this election. We can get the most moral and just person into office, and though this might change things for the better in this country, it would have little effect on the souls of people. What does affect the eternal wellbeing of souls is doctrine, or teaching. This is the more important thing. Doctrine is life. This seems like an overstatement, but it is not. A presenter at the recent General Pastor’s Conference in Minnesota clearly expressed this idea, “If we lose doctrine, we lose Jesus, and if we lose Jesus, we lose life.” Thus we can say doctrine is life!
A constant and timeless concern about professing Christians being shaky with doctrine was justified recently by a study conducted by LifeWay Research of 3000 Americans, with nearly 600 of them being Evangelical Americans. Here are some sad results among the Evangelical Americans subgroup that may or may not be surprising:
- 71% agree with the statement: “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.”
- Only 85% agree with the statement: “Jesus is truly God and has a divine nature, and that Jesus is truly man and has a human nature.”
- Only 37% disagree with the statement: “The Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being.”
- Only 66% disagree with the statement: “The Holy Spirit is a divine being but is not equal with God the Father and Jesus.”
- 48% agree with the statement: “God accepts the worship of all religions including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.”
- 64% agree with the statement: “Heaven is a place where all people will ultimately be reunited with their loved ones.”
- Only 44% disagree with the statement: “Modern science discredits the claims of Christianity.”
- 54% agree with the statement: “Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.”
- 82% agree with the statement: “People have the ability to turn to God on their own initiative.”
- Only 47% agree with the statement: “Even the smallest sin deserve eternal damnation.”
- Only 59% disagree with the statement: “By the good deeds that I do, I partly contribute to earning my place in heaven.”
- 17% agree with the statement: “The Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of religious myths but is not literally true.”
- 30% agree with the statement: “The Bible was written for each person to interpret as he or she chooses.”
- 86% agree with the statement: “A person obtains peace with God by first taking the initiative to seek God and then God responds with grace.”
- Only 23% disagree with the statement: “An individual must contribute his or her own effort for personal salvation.”
- 42% agree with the statement: “Worshipping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church.”
- Only 87% agree with the statement: “Abortion is a sin.”
- 32% agree with the statement: “Gender identity is a matter of choice.”
- Only 75% disagree with the statement: “The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today.”
You can see the full results on the LifeWay website. I offer a couple observations. First, these results show contradictions in the beliefs of people. For example, 97% of Evangelical Americans say that the Triune God is the one true God, but then 48% of this same group believes that God accepts the worship of other religions that do not recognize Him like the Jews and Muslims. Postmodern thought and the “spiritual but not religious” mentality are likely to blame for these contradictions.
My second observation is the more important one. Some of the teachings that these professing evangelicals believe or don’t believe put them outside the pale of Christianity. And the rest of their false beliefs pose a great danger to their own faith and the faith of those around them.
False beliefs enter the Church from within the Church through false teachers, their television programs and published books, and even enter inadvertently through well-meaning preachers when they confuse Law and Gospel or emphasize a particular doctrine over the central doctrine of justification by grace through faith for Christ’s sake. Errors also enter from outside the Church through the secular humanistic and hedonistic culture in which we live. Philosophies of the day, educational systems, teachers, professors, friends and parents who don’t know any better (“I just want you to be happy…”), social media, mainstream media, television, music, commercials, etc. teach us anti-Christian thoughts and living each day constantly. Errors come from within ourselves through our own sinful flesh and its desires to be independent from God and do what is right in its own eyes.
Errors in our theology may start out with this kind of thinking, “I’m good; I’m not in danger of falling into error.” This is a dangerous thought. Some think that once they have been confirmed, that they’ve learned everything that they need to know about the faith, and don’t have to continue to learn and grow in the Word. But consider what Luther himself says, “I am also a doctor and preacher…. Yet I act as a child who is being taught the catechism. Every morning—and whenever I have time—I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, and such. I must still read and study them daily. Yet I cannot master the catechism as I wish. But I must remain a child and pupil of the catechism, and am glad to remain so.”
So unless our knowledge far exceeds that of Luther, we must continue throughout our lives to remain students of God’s Word and the catechism, which presents the doctrines of the Bible in shortened and condensed form. God instructs His Church to grow in the knowledge of the truth, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:13-14). And growing in knowledge, we are to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
So attend Bible Class, study the Bible and the Catechism, read good theological books, (Rick Warren and Joyce Meyer do not write good books), use good devotionals, and if you have a Study Bible, make sure it’s a good one. Doctrine is life. Let it be understood, theological acumen does not save us. Simple faith in Christ alone saves. (Thus an infant with the Spirit-given gift of faith may know Christ and trusts in Him. The believing infant is a better theologian than those who got the fundamental doctrines wrong in the survey.) But who is Christ? How does He save? How does this salvation become ours? Who are we and what do we need saving from? Etc., etc., etc. That’s where doctrine comes in. It’s not just pastors who should get those questions of the survey right. Every Christian should get them right. Let us all become mature in our knowledge of Christ. Doctrine is life. We need it for ourselves, for our own faith. But we also need it for the sake of our children and other family and friends. Let’s have it so that we can give it.
And the great part is that good, sound doctrine is so comforting and joyful! The Bible is all about Jesus for you! What a great thing to make our life’s endeavor to live and grow in this truth! Amen.