In the confusion of today’s world, competing world religions and the wilderness of modern life the Church of God needs to know what it believes, teaches and confesses.
'Fuzzy and confused’ are the words that come to mind when you want to describe the mindset of people living in this day and age: fuzzy, confused, unsure, all mixed up, easily misled. All too often Christians too!
Do we still have passion and conviction? Do we still know – to use this great phrase of the Reformation – what ‘we believe, teach and confess’?
We are in a dangerous anti-doctrine phase of church history. Doctrine is on the nose – nearly a dirty word, avoided even in the church. The other day I read about ‘a powerful doctrine seminar’ in the Philippines. If we announced an exciting ‘doctrine seminar’ coming our way the event would probably go down like a lead balloon.
What else do you expect when our people’s ‘spiritual food’ intake per week is often little more than an hour’s worth of church?
I was asked to preach at a Charismatic Church under one condition: the sermon had to be at least 30min long – not like in the Lutheran Church! And after my 40min sermon I had to pray, one by one, for nearly 100 people. Reluctantly I obliged but there was a problem: some of them fell over backward as a result of me praying for them. Fortunately the ushers behind them provided a safe landing! And that after a simple, short, low-key ‘Lutheran’ prayer! You have seen people falling over like that on TV, haven’t you?
What we preach and teach, believe and confess as Christians, needs to go into the bloodstream of our people. The Bible, the Catechism, some of the classics from the hymnal and contemporary treasures together are the backbone of in-depth growth in faith and love.
In modern life and also common Christian practice God has been removed from centre stage and is little more than sentimental favourite among all kinds of competing gods worshipped today, like ‘the good life’, money and pleasure. The result: bewildered, searching, dissatisfied messed-up people trying anything!
There is New Age of course in its various manifestations. There are cults, sects, the Eastern religions like Buddhism. There are alternative lifestyles. Alternative this and that. For hearts are bleeding.
If our people are not nourished by their own church and worship does not feed their souls, they will soon worship somewhere else. Why shouldn’t they? But the problem is that new traps and dangers are lurking at the roadside – emotionalism and the loss of substance, the loss of conviction and clarity about what we ‘believe, teach and confess’.
There is so much unsound, legalistic, manipulative preaching around – often centering on healing and the miraculous, centering on my needs and my world, but ultimately not on Christ. However we can also learn so much from other churches and have to admit that, for one thing, we have neglected the healing ministry of the church all too often.
The centrality of the Theology of the Cross
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that faith (in the Biblical sense of full trust in God and reliance on God and his Word) has steeply declined in recent years and that God has been largely retired from his children’s daily life.
Yet we believe that the Good News of Jesus Christ is still everything – and that the world needs nothing more urgently than the Gospel, more than food for poor children or food and shelter for refugees.
Christ is the food. He is life and salvation. He sets us free. But we can only grasp this liberation fully when we understand the pillars of the Reformation, the profound wonder and depth of what Paul writes about in Romans 1 to 5; the miracle and mystery of boundless grace through faith alone. There shouldn't be anything like ‘dead doctrine’ and we should be in raptures about Romans where this teaching – which is the Gospel itself! - comes through in its purest form.
The true Christian and Apostolic church on earth is firmly founded on the Theology of the Cross and not on any other kind of ‘gospel’ or theology like the theology of glory. This is the common but deceptive theology of ‘I can’ that intertwines what Christ has done for us with what we have to do for Christ in order to flourish in Him and this life. It gives false hope and mixes up Law and Gospel. It is no longer salvation by faith alone, by grace alone, by Christ alone, by the Scriptures alone.
Deeply grounded in the Gospel and Gospel teaching we will weather all the modern-day storms of heresy: the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ in its various forms, the spreading cult of saints in the Roman Catholic Church (see article in this issue of FIRE), legalistic holiness preaching (that creates hypocrites), the Social Gospel, or even the retreat into form and tradition: church law, rituals and inward-looking sacramentalism. We believe that today’s heresies are well covered up and hidden but highly destructive and potentially fatal for the church.
When the Son of God sets you free, you are free indeed. John 8, 26. Then you are also free from all the legalism and judgmentalism of this world, even of fellow believers. Then you as a child of God don’t have to look happy and ‘saved’ all the time or depend on the approval of others. For you are free – free to be ‘you’. And you can know that even on your most dreadful day, tossed about by sorrow, sin and doubt: I am His forevermore! And conquer I will!