The Tasteless White of an Egg

 A man complains when there is no salt in his food. And how tasteless is the white of an egg—my appetite is gone when I look at it; I gag at the thought of eating it! ~Job

If the rod is for the back of fools, we shouldn’t be surprised that we are taking a beating. This regnant folly has plunged the whole of civilization into chaos. In our rush to abdicate all responsibility, we have unwittingly turned over the rule of the insane asylum to the inmates. And we haven’t just given them the keys—we’ve given them our guns.

This type of cultural chaos was foreseeable but only to those who know the value of looking behind them. We got here because this is where this road has taken us. It was well marked. The signs were clear. But we are men. We hate asking for directions.

Chaos feeds on fear and breathes out despair. Our culture is now haunted by epistemological despair, a despair which cannot be buried, shouted down, turned aside, waved on, or simply ignored. It’s always there, even when we may prefer to deny it. We don’t know why we are here, where we are supposed to go, or how to act while on our way. But in the meantime, our schools teach third graders how to use contraceptives. Countless fathers desert their wives and children. Pastors dishonor their calling through their rampant adulteries. Thieving representatives of a thieving people plunder the widow. The drunkards of Ephraim vomit on the table. The approaching night is not the kind that can just be danced away.

Why? This has happened because, over the last century and a half, the Church has allowed herself to be corrupted by the various forms of unbelieving -isms which surround her—egalitarianism, feminism, socialism, environmentalism, you-name-it-ism. The contemporary Church consequently has no answers for those questioning, no light for those stumbling, and no life for those who are dying. The Church, which God ordained as the pillar and ground of the truth, now finds herself echoing that ancient relativistic aside of Pilate—quod veritas? What is truth?

In a world of pagan despair, the epistemological corruptions and compromises of the Church have blurred and distorted the clarity of the biblical message. And as circumstances continue to deteriorate, the silent presence of a bystanding, impotent Church has merely added to the weight and burden of our cultural despair.

To the extent that the symptoms of our disease are undeniable, the world does offer some suggestions. A common method solves the problem by admitting that it exists, but it’s not that serious. As soon as the fat-cat prophets see that God’s people are on the verge of a deep and real repentance, they will not be long in coming forward. And when they come forward they will heal the hurt of the people slightly; they will speak peace when there is no peace. They will do nothing more than take a damp washcloth and dab around the edges of our gangrenous wounds with a lot of “there, there’s” and “now, now’s”. But there will be no peace. Until we see that God is true, and that we have been lying to ourselves, we will not have any peace worthy of the name.

Hors d’oeuvre
Christians must obediently and humbly return to the triune God of Scripture. We must return to the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of all true wisdom and the end to our folly. This must be our epistemology, our apologetic, our hermeneutic—thorough-going obedience to the grace of God through Christ in the fear of God. This, and only this, will enable us to become like the men of Isaachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.

By the grace of the Lord, we must resolve to be faithful to every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, from the first “in” of Genesis to the last “amen” of Revelation. We must not be embarrassed by any passage of Scripture. And once we have submissively ascertained its meaning through careful study and patient grammatical, historical, and typological study, we must seek to put it into practice the day before yesterday.

No Tables for One!
The reformation of the Church begins with individuals. It will be as individuals that we appear before the bar of God to be gathered with the sheep or scattered with the goats. Individuals will give an account for all their idle words, lustful and covetous thoughts, squandered talents that turned no profit, and now vain excuses. Individuals will enter into blessedness or banishment all by ones. There won’t be any shirttails to cling to on that day.

All who name the name of Christ must therefore depart from all forms of wickedness, especially the secret sin which has been hidden from every eye but God’s. Individual Christians must repent of the sin of autonomous individualism, the belief that our lives and thoughts are our own property and that our relationships with others are simply a matter of our own voluntary arrangements. As the Lord liveth, they are not. We have been bought with a price; we are not our own. Having been redeemed by Christ, we have been placed by God under various corporate authorities to obey Him through faithful service according to the law He has established for the governance of these institutions.

These institutions (familial, civil, and ecclesiastical) rise and fall together. Lately, just fall together. The Church is, simultaneously, prow, rudder, engine and anchor. The only way to stay out of the reefs and off the rocks is to have the nose of the Ship pointed in the right direction. The best way to keep bodies out of the reefs and off the rocks is to keep them out of the water. Knowing that some might miss the metaphor, let me take it a step farther. The Ship might be manned by brigands and pirates but there are sharks in the water. We don’t think it wise to jump overboard.

The Main Course
The first duty of all Christian churches is to proclaim the gospel clearly. All of it. Steven Jeffrey reminds us that the gospel is much broader than we think. It must be in order to accomplish everything that it is going to accomplish. It is not just about individual salvation. It’s about the redemption of the world. All of it. Jeffrey says that “…the gospel is the glorious announcement that Israel’s God has at last returned to Zion (Isa 40:9) in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who has been declared with power to be Israel’s true King and the world’s true Lord and Judge (Rom 1:1-6); that this Man is great David’s Greater Son, and has now been exalted to sit on David’s throne (1 Tim 2:8); that therefore the creation which was once ruled by a rebellious man of sin and dust and death is now ruled by a perfect Man of righteousness and glory and life (Gen 1-3; Rom 5; 8; 1 Cor 15); and that this Man commands all people and all nations to bow before him and receive from him forgiveness of their sins, adoption into God’s family, empowering by the Holy Spirit, and a renewed vocation to bring every aspects of their lives into conformity with God’s inspired and infallible word, the Bible…” The gospel of Jesus is a “Kingdom” gospel. When we here the word “gospel” we should think every bit as much about the reign of Christ as we do the redemption of Christ.

But this in no way diminishes the necessity of individual salvation. After all, you can’t make a good omelette with rotten eggs. Man by nature is a deserving object of God’s wrath, utterly without hope of saving himself. Dead in his filthiness, he is without God and without hope in the world. But before all worlds, God the Father selected by name a people for His name, the number of whom cannot be increased, diminished or counted by man. When the appointed time of their redemption came, God the Son took on human flesh and was born of a woman. According to the determinate counsel of God, the eternal Word of God died on a tree as a perfect efficacious substitute for His people, those whom the Father had given Him. As this message progresses throughout the world, God the Spirit comes upon men and women selected for salvation and in a wonderful and effectual way, regenerates them; those whom God has ordained to eternal life believe. This being the case, what shall we say then to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? If we were to stumble and fall, underneath are the everlasting arms. This too is the gospel. We need to herald a full-orbed gospel. We need have no fear in preaching any facet of this message. We need only to tremble for having neglected it for so long.

Silverware
As the Church returns to a clear understanding of the gospel message, other important reformations will follow. We may even call these “transformations.” Our chief concern is the reformation of the Church, not the transformation of nations and cultures. But chief’s have indians. If the Church were to be reformed, it would have dramatic impact on the surrounding nations and cultures.

Reformation is the task before us. Ah yes, I see that hand. Of course, evangelism is very important. The Christian faith calls us to nothing short of world conquest. This means that we have to take seriously the task of world evangelism. And taking it seriously often means that we have to cool our jets and stop carpet-bombing Baghdad with Chick Tracts. Before we compass land and sea to make one proselyte, we need to make sure that what we are sending out is actually the gospel and not our own sins and follies. We are trying to make disciples, not doubly-damned men.

This is also why we can’t just all love Jesus, whoever He is, and try to provide folks who wander in with a seeker-friendly atmosphere. First, because this is pragmatism. Second, because pragmatism can be readily condemned out of its own mouth. Pragmatism doesn’t work. We must recover the teaching of Scripture, know it to be the teaching of Scripture, and let our methods be shaped by it.

We also need a spiritual renewal. We need God to breathe on the desert bones as we prophesy to them. Preaching to the dead only gets you so far. Ezekiel’s bones came together and made noise but they were still very dead. Apparently, being assembled isn’t the same as being alive. Also, rattle isn’t reliable. Without the power of the Spirit of God, our sanctuaries are just mortuaries.

Many Christians today are praying for revival, but we also need to be careful how we pray. The Church today is a lightweight operation, like a stack of dried twigs, soaked in lighter fluid. The consuming fire of the Holy Spirit would not burn for long and certainly wouldn’t leave much behind. This is why we pray and labor toward a doctrinal reformation that will cut and split a lot of hardwood—green logs that burn for a long time.

Needs more salt…
While a lost world has been wandering blindly in the arrogance of sin, we have taken our ease in Zion, seeking our own pleasure and comfort, rather than seeking first the kingdom of God. And those Christians who have been “activists” have largely done so in ignorance. They have been trying to slay the Dragon, armed only with slingshots and trashcan lids. The only thing that has eclipsed our folly has been our failure. We must confess our impotence.

Jesus warned us about these dangers. “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt has lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under the the feet of men: (Mt. 5:13). Here we are; bland, “good for nothing,” with bootprints on our foreheads. We are the Church trampled instead of the Church triumphant. We have no potency and we defend ourselves by attacking the corruption. When salt loses its savor, it does no good for the salt to start blaming the meat.

We must repent of our saltless ways. We have been the bland leading the bland. Perishables need preservatives. Society needs salt. Culture needs Christ. The Church has been given what the world needs. All of the salt has just settled at the bottom. Thankfully, God is in the habit of shaking things up (Heb. 12:26).

Textus Rejectus

The serpent still slithers. As he continues to strike at the heels of the Church, he sets his sights on the same general region: the authority and sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures.

He is a vicious viper armed with twin toxins. He uses a nasty neurotoxin that attacks the central nervous system of the Church. The strategy here is to convince Christians that we have a faulty word from God. We might just call this old-fashioned liberalism. Then there is that second poison, a horrible hemotoxin that attacks the bloodstream of the Church. The strategy here is quite subtle (as one should expect) and hopes to convince Christians that we have a fresh word from God.

For most of us, liberalism is not really a clear and present danger. Yet. But it certainly follows on the heels of unchecked, charismatic chaos. The biggest threat to the authority of the Bible is new revelation, hot off the press.

The men of the Westminster Assembly were certainly alive to this danger when they declared the ultimacy of Scripture. Not only was the Bible senior to “all creeds of councils” and “opinions of ancient writers” but it was also senior to “private spirits.” We are to accept the Bible as it is, they said, not adding anything at any time, whether by “new revelations of the Spirit” or “traditions of men.” Renegade traditions provide one temptation, but in modern evangelical circles, the most pressing problem is created by those who claim that God continues to give revelation. The concern here is not really about worship styles, but rather about the integrity of the Scriptures.

More than a few pastors have wondered whether they are being theologically dishonest in saying that the “sign gifts” are no longer operative in the Church today. True, the Charismatic movement gives us great reason to be suspicious, and it is a pleasure to be prejudiced and bigoted sometimes, especially when Benny Hinn is involved, but do we not have to admit that such charismatic goings-on were present in the Church of the New Testament? Well, no.

The question goes far beyond the fact of charismatic excess. The central issue in all of this is the preservation of the doctrine of sola Scriptura. The only ultimate and infallible authority in all matters of faith and practice is contained in the sixty-six books of the Bible. If the miraculous gifts are in any way acknowledged, then the doctrine of sola Scriptura must be necessarily abandoned. This does not mean that everyone does abandon it who should, only that logical consistency demands it.

The easiest way to illustrate this is to consider the office of prophet and the nature of prophecy. What happens when someone stands up in a church service and prophesies? He says, in effect, “Thus says the Lord,” and then a message follows. A man who hears these words and believes them is obligated to treat the words he hears as the Word of God. The only way for him to contradict this is by saying that he believes them to be words from God but for some reason he does not really have to treat them as words from God. But this is totally contradictory.

When I have offered this objection in the past, the answer has frequently been an appeal to the lost prophecies of Philip’s daughters, or something else in a similar category. In other words, the Bible tells us that some prophecies from God did not make it into Scripture, and so therefore not all prophecies from God have to be considered Scripture. But this misses the point of the objection.

Of course, the words of God can be disposed of by God. If He gave a word through one of Philip’s daughters which He did not want to be included in Scripture, then He may obviously do what He pleases with His own words. The point being made here is that we may not do as we please with His words. A man who has received these words as from God has no basis for treating them differently from other words of God (contained in Scripture).

As long as a man has in his possession words which he believes are inspired by God, then he has a moral responsibility to treat them as though they are words inspired by God. This means he has no consistent basis for treating them any differently than the words of Scripture. Furthermore, on a practical level, he has certain clear inducements to pay closer attention to them than the words of Scripture. Jeremiah lived a long time ago, in a weird place, He spoke a different language, his circumstances were very different. And now here, in this church service, God has given us a word in English, in our time, in our surroundings. Which seems more relevant of the two?

Charismatic believers can be divided into two groups, corresponding to two responses to this objection. The first group agrees with the reductio posed here, and runs with it. These are the groups which have a prophecy of the week posted on the bulletin board, and every so often they publish the Bible 2.0 and The Bible Remixed. These groups are cultic, and we need not concern ourselves with them, except for the purposes of evangelism.

But the other group does not like the dilemma when it is presented to them. Because they are genuine Christians, they know that the Bible is unique. However, because of this false and destructive doctrine of continuing revelation, they have no way of consistently maintaining that the Bible is unique. Fortunately, they are better Christians than logicians, and so they just live with the glaring contradiction. This is not hard, because it is rarely pointed out to them. But the fact that they are sincere Christians does not remove the danger they have created. A man should fear when his convictions, faithfully followed to their conclusion, might lead him to abandon the Christian faith.

But the dilemma for the charismatics is insufficient for those who want to ground their theology and practice in the plain teaching of Scripture. Can the cessation of the sign gifts, the gifts bearing or authenticating revelation, be found in the pages of the Bible? Yes. In brief, the case for the cessation of sign gifts can be made in summary fashion. In the former days, God spoke to us in various ways through the prophets, but in the last days He spoke through His Son (Heb. 1:1). This Son was laid as the cornerstone, and alongside Him were the foundation stones of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20-21). No other foundation can be laid other than the one which was laid, namely the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11). The indicators of this foundational and apostolic authority were signs, wonders, and divers miracles, all done according to the Spirit’s desire and will (2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:4).

So the issue is not whether we like this gift or that one, or whether we are to duplicate the phenomena of the first-century church. The issue is whether we really understand the nature of blueprints. No real need for doing concrete work while building the attic.

Requiem Aeternam

paisley-young

By the glory of His blessed countenance, by the touch of His tender hand, by the tenderness of the eye which is the mirror of His heart, I beseech you, make your eternal tryst with God your Saviour now.

Turn from this world of emptiness and turn to Christ the universe of fullness. Seek Him who is the way, the truth and the life. Never give your mind rest nor your heart peace nor your conscience sleep until you are sure that you can say, ‘I am His and He is mine.’ Never rest until you can sing, ‘ten thousand charms around Him shine, but best of all, I know He’s mine.’

I have a cause to plead for my master this day. Never again will I have the opportunity to address you as I address you now. Such an opportunity comes but once in a lifetime.

O sinner, I meet you this day on life’s highway. You are travelling the wrong way on the wrong road. I would accost you. I would call you to halt and listen to this message from my master. I want you to know that I am in deadly earnest. I am Christ’s ambassador. I must clear myself of your soul’s blood.

If you heed me not, then I must patiently exhort you. Why must you refuse my Master, whose love to you was to the wounds of the cross.

From exhortation I will turn to entreaty. I will beseech you not to harden your heart. ‘He that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.’

From entreaty I would turn to adjuration. I adjure you by the thorns which pierced Christ’s brow, by the whip which ploughed His back, by the nails which pierced His hands and feet, by the spear which stabbed His side, to neglect not so great salvation.

Why, O why will you die?

From adjuration I turn to tears. I weep for you, that you are so foolish to sell your soul for some quickly passing pleasure, some soul-destroying lust, some destructive habit.

Life is too short to gamble with the whereabouts of your soul.

And if my weeping will not move you, I will take me to my room and there I will continue to weep for you.

Today the greatest spiritual hero of my youth is at rest with His Maker. His was an example of courage and conviction. Like Eleazar, his faithfulness in the fight caused the sword of the gospel to cleave to his hand. He may have wielded it with greater power than any man in Europe. He faced down popes, prime ministers, and protestors with fire in his belly and a word on his tongue.

It was largely from him that I learned something about fervency in prayer and passion in preaching.

I learned that convictions like steel need not dampen evangelical zeal. I learned that grace and grit not only can coexist in a man but that they must do so. I learned that warring hands must be tempered with weeping eyes. I learned something of the strange ways of Providence by watching his life. Like Joseph, he went from a prison cell to the Queen’s Privy Council. He rose from the lowest seat in prison to the highest seat in parliament. He was not a perfect man but he loved and served a perfect Master. It seems that because his ways pleased the Lord even his enemies were made to be at peace with him.

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One day, should I live to be an old man, I would like to hold my posterity on my knee and say, “Let me tell you about Paisley; the man who shook Ireland for Christ…the man who shook me. That big man laid his hand upon me one evening and prayed that Spirit of God would rest upon my ministry. All the while, I was praying for a double-portion of his power to rest upon me. Children, he was a mighty man of God. The world rarely sees such a soldier of the cross in these times. Truly, there were giants on the earth in those days.”

Paisley and I

Oh, that someone would reach up catch his falling mantle. May we take it up and smite our swelling Jordans, watch God roll back the proud waves, and then go forth conquering and to conquer. 

final sermon
R.I.P. Ian R.K. Paisley
You fought the good fight. You kept the faith. Now you have finished your course. You did it with joy.  Soli Deo Gloria
http://www.sermonaudio.com/new_details.asp?ID=40661

Take a few minutes to listen to this classic sermon.

http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=6864

Five Points: The Better to Stab You With

Reformation in the Church begins in the pulpit.  Once we recover our priorities in preaching, we will return to the basics of the gospel, and it is not possible to do this without addressing the issues that have been nicknamed Calvinism. Now, it is our solemn duty to preach Christ and not Calvin. But mark it down—if someone preaches Christ correctly, he will be accused of preaching Calvin. And as W.G.T. Shedd once said, “If they are going to hang you for a thief then you might as well steal something.”

So we must therefore answer the question posed by the serpent in Eden, which is, “Hath God said?” If God has not spoken on these things, we must remain silent ourselves. And if He has spoken, then there is no possible reason for attributing the invention of these doctrines to a certain Frenchman.

If it is on account of grace and the cross, then it is an honor to be slandered as a “Calvinist.” Christ said it was an honor when men speak evil of us, and it certainly is evil for the followers of Christ to be identified as the followers of a mere man, however godly that man was. But just because we rejoice in the slander ourselves, it is not necessary that we join in the slander. We are to rejoice in the slander; we are not to do our best to make the slander true. Christ did say to go the second mile, but I don’t think this is what He had in mind.

In contrast, if it is on account of an obnoxious and churlish presentation, then there is no honor at all in being called a “Calvinist.” Some who call themselves by this name do have a reputation for an approach which is not characterized by Christian charity. As John Newton pointed out, self-righteousness can feed on doctrines as well as works.

Should “Calvinists” seek unity of fellowship with Christians who differ with them on that issue? Absolutely. Why? Because election depends upon the good pleasure of the Father. And if He has bestowed His unmerited pleasure on Arminians (which He most certainly does), then it makes no sense for a Calvinist to magnify the prerogatives of divine sovereignty by telling God He is not allowed to fellowship with any Arminians, and that furthermore the Calvinist is going to try to set a good example for God through restricting his fellowship. Some view of divine sovereignty! Some Calvinism! Woe to the pot who strives with the Potter. Woe to the Calvinist who objects to the loose fellowship standards of God Almighty!

Is this to minimize the seriousness of the Arminian error? Not at all—it is a grievous error, and it leads to worse. Is it to minimize the truths contained in Calvinism? Not at all. As mentioned before, Calvinism is nothing more than a nickname for a thorough and right understanding of the gospel. The point is simply to say God’s grace is greater than all human error and sin. Even ours. And that grace is most apparent when Christians love one another.

But suppose an Arminian says that we cannot really love our brother if we say that he is mistaken about the gospel. We would paraphrase Paul and ask, “How are we an enemy simply because we speak the truth?” True Christians may be mistaken in their theology of the cross, our duty is therefore twofold. We must love all Christians as brothers, and we must graciously dissent from all such mistakes about the cross. And at other points of doctrine or practice, where God uses Arminians to correct us, our duty is to receive it humbly.

If an Arminian is elect and chosen, then his election is not imperiled thought his failure to understand the ninth chapter of Romans. Paul did not say, at the end of the eight chapter, that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ except for shoddy exegesis. And if a Calvinist is reprobate, then he cannot earn his way into the approval of God though a self-righteous mouthing of the doctrines of grace. Unsaved Calvinists are like Solomon’s beautiful woman without discretion—a gold ring in a pig’s snout. But when both share in a common election, their duty is to maintain a unity of love, and strive for a unity of mind which is only possible through diligent study and application of the Scriptures.

Now there are some who take the name “Calvinist,” not out of a fractious party spirit, but because they don’t want to seem uncharitable. “Mine is the biblical position. What’s yours?” But however well-intentioned, it is still not within our authority to act as though something revealed in the first century was invented in the sixteenth. Keeping the peace is not an absolute priority. And for those doctrinally-oriented Calvinists who are very concerned for the claims of truth, there is important instruction in the early chapters of Revelation. It is good to be concerned for thrush; the ancient Ephesian church was not rebuked for that, but rather for abandoning its first love. We must proclaim the truth, and we must love the brethren. If we sacrifice the truth for the sake of love, it is not really love; if we sacrifice love for the sake of truth, it is not really truth. The Bible requires unswerving allegiance to both.

So it is not possible to put the issue to one side even to keep peace between Christians. We are commanded to preach the gospel, and all presentations of the gospel must presuppose the truth of one position or the other. So there is no neutrality; there is no third way.

The Bible reveals truth; it does not conceal it. A Calvinist is simply one who believes the revealed truth about foreordination as it was revealed to us. He does not seek to mix the plain statements of Scripture with fallen reasoning or logical extrapolation. Therefore the label he uses must match what he is doing—the last thing a label should do is mislead. It would be helpful if we would avoid the label “Calvinist” in every honest way we can. But in no way are we seeking to minimize any biblical truths about the cross. Rather, we are trying to detach a human name from God’s truth. At the same time, the reader should know that whenever we refer to grace, faith, justification, the cross, election, etc., we are referring to what others call “Calvinism,” and what the Bible calls grace.

The Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace

Wisdom has built her house while most of us are still tinkering with Legos. We have a surplus of wise-guys and a shortage of wisdom. We would all do well to remember that it takes biblical wisdom both to guard us and to guide us. Discernment keeps the ship off of the rocks and directs us toward our God-given goals. This being so, we must remember that every facet of the ministry requires a great deal of wisdom. With all of our getting, we must grab a few fistfuls of that invaluable resource. This is certainly true when it comes to preaching.

A high view of Scripture would seem to indicate that everything in the Word of God is of equal importance. This view naturally translates to emphases on certain strange homiletical hobby horses in the pulpit. While honoring the Word in high form, this “high view” denies it in substance. When Jesus tells us that two commandments are the greatest commandments, He is saying by implication that some commandments are of lesser importance (Mk. 12:29).

When Paul comments on how he delivered to the Corinthians that which was of first importance (“first of all”), he intimates by this that some things are not of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3). And, of course, love is greater than faith and hope (I Cor. 13:13). Careful students of Scripture understand this. “At Parbar westward, four at the causeway, and two at Parbar” (I Chr. 26:18). Such a passage from the Word of God is not as important as the following: “But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Cor. 15:13-14). Both are absolutely true and are God-breathed, but both are not equally important.

This is no disparagement of any portion of the Word; the Word contains such things in part to teach us our doctrinal priorities. David ate the shewbread because he was hungry, and God had it recorded because, in part, He wanted to exasperate tidy-minds (1 Sam. 21:6).

Now it would be nice to simply affirm the general principle, and have done with it. Unfortunately, this would be empty teaching—clouds without rain. There was once an old country preacher who used to preach on heaven constantly. When asked why he did so, he replied that he had preached on chicken-stealing once, but it had dampened the enthusiasm. In the same way, in order to keep peace in the church, those things which are truly important must be taught and insisted upon, while those issues of lesser importance must be discussed and named. Unless they are named, and named in particulars, we cannot repent of our foolish disputes.

In order to maintain the peace of Christ’s Church, we must not only know what is true, we must also know the relative importance of each truth. The Deity of Christ is important; head coverings for women are not as important. Justification by faith is very important; whether Pastor Jones ought to be be drinking Michelob is not. Of course, there is a sense in which drinking Michelob can be controversial. In modern evangelical circles, drinking Michelob is controversial because it is drinking beer. In more reformed circles, it is controversial because it is bad beer. But I digress. The doctrine of sola Scriptura is important; whether the church baptizes by immersion alone is of lesser importance. Election is important; wrangles over the color of the choir robes are not. Christians often quarrel, and part ways, over things which ought not separate them. Preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is important; whether it is lawful to keep the refrigerator plugged in on the Lord’s Day isn’t. The ministry of the pulpit must reflect these relative priorities.

The Bible contains a great deal about doctrinal priorities. Some of the most withering criticism leveled by our Lord was directed at religious meatheads who did not know that the altar was more important than the gold placed on it, and honoring parents was more important than contributing to the current pledge drive for the church’s new parking lot. He also had some rough things to say about people who forgot justice and mercy while tithing from every container in their spice rack. The Pharisees used to strain out a gnat while swallowing a camel. In the last two thousand years, the Church has perhaps advanced a little bit. Now we strain out a June bug while swallowing a camel.

In order to avoid this problem, we have to ask two questions about every doctrine we seek to present in the pulpit. The first concerns whether the teaching is true. Having established that something is true, it is crucial to determine the relative importance of that truth. Knowing what is important, and what is not important, is central to the ministry of the Word.

We must consequently know our Bibles, because sometimes doctrinal issues of the greatest moment can hang on apparently trivial matters. Paul faced down Peter at Antioch because the gospel was at stake in Peter’s avoidance of certain dinner companions. Other issues are apparently trivial because they are, well, trivial. When forbidden to destroy our brother in a dispute over vegetables, we sometimes obey and then seek to destroy him over some other food group. “Who are thou that judges another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth” (Rom. 14:4).

“Ah,” we say, “but our doctrinal hobby horse isn’t in view in Romans 14. The Greek indicates…” Whatever the secondary issue we use to harass our brother may be, we must guard our hearts. “But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10). If these squabbles and disputes are going to follow us into the throne room of Christ, then our Greek had better be pretty good.

Of course this is not to say that we must have no convictions on secondary matters. No pastoral problems result from being fully convinced in our own minds. So how are we to determine what is of less importance, and what is only apparently unimportant? These sorts of disputes exist in Scripture, and so we must study these disputes to discover what they had in common and then apply to what we have found, by analogy, our own squabbles.

The Christian faith has a center. When Christians gravitate toward the periphery in order to conduct fights along the fence, it betrays a lack of love at the center, and perhaps reveals a desire to get over the fence entirely. As we seek to live together in the congregation of God’s saints, we must be mindful of what the Lord is seeking to perform in our midst and be jealous for the protection of it. “For meat detroyeth not the work of God” (Rom. 14:20).