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Doctrine Divides

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
May 29, 2024 12:00 am

Doctrine Divides

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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May 29, 2024 12:00 am

Many churches have proven that they can enjoy peace and unity. But at what cost? What divisive element can break the unity and be labelled a disturber of the peace? In this message, Dr. Sproul reminds us that "Doctrine Divides," and also shows the necessity of these doctrines.

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Meet Today's Teacher:

R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) was known for his ability to winsomely and clearly communicate deep, practical truths from God's Word. He was founder of Ligonier Ministries, first minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew's Chapel, first president of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine.

Meet the Host:

Nathan W. Bingham is vice president of ministry engagement for Ligonier Ministries, executive producer and host of Renewing Your Mind, host of the Ask Ligonier podcast, and a graduate of Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. Nathan joined Ligonier in 2012 and lives in Central Florida with his wife and four children.

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Renewing Your Mind is a donor-supported outreach of Ligonier Ministries. Explore all of our podcasts: https://www.ligonier.org/podcasts

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Historically, to be an evangelical meant something doctrinally. That is, it was defined in terms of a particular confession.

Now it tends to be defined by a methodology rather than a theology. And you have the same kind of pluralism rampant in so-called evangelical circles today that we see in historic liberalism. It's easy to be united if we ignore truths, if we ignore doctrine. But the mandate for Christians is to be united in the truth, and the New Testament frequently warns us of false teachers and false teaching.

This is the Wednesday edition of Renewing Your Mind, and you're hearing messages from R.C. Sproul's series The Bride of Christ. We cannot preserve unity if we don't also preserve truth, which is why, for example, this series not only emphasizes the importance of the true unity of the church, but also explains from Scripture the doctrine of the church.

What is it? How do we know if a church is a true church? And until tomorrow you can own this series, along with Sinclair Ferguson's book In the Year of Our Lord, when you give a gift of any amount at renewingyourmind.org. Well, here's Dr. Sproul on the dividing and uniting role of doctrine. When I was a young boy, I learned an old saw, an adage that has served me well, and I'm sure that you all recognize this as you hear it. It goes something like this, ornithological specimens of the same or similar pluage tend to habitually congregate in the closest possible proximity. Now, we all know what that means.

Is that right? Birds of a feather flock together. Ornithological specimens, birds of the same similar pluage, birds of a feather flock together. We have a tendency to want to congregate with people who hold similar values and similar viewpoints and people who cherish what we cherish, and we tend to congregate accordingly. And in fact, one of the scandals, I think, of Protestantism is that so many times the church's makeup of membership is not defined by a common confession of faith in terms of sharing the same doctrine, but the churches tend to be established along socioeconomic lines of similarity. That's one of the things I've always respected about the Roman Catholic Church is that that church is established along the parish concept. You don't have the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth Roman Catholic Church in the same block in a city. Like you might have the first Baptist, the second Baptist, or the first Presbyterian, the second Presbyterian, third Presbyterian, and so on.

I frequently do conferences in Philadelphia at the tenth Presbyterian Church. I don't know whatever happened to the ninth Presbyterian Church. But the unity of the New Testament is a unity that is to be a unity of faith. And the Catholic Church has said we'll have people who are from management, from labor, from various ethnic backgrounds, various economic backgrounds, all in the same congregation. That's, I think, a wonderful practice because the church isn't to be targeted to some particular demographic group. The whole of society is called to participate in the body of Christ, in the New Testament community. There wasn't a Baptist church in Ephesus and a Presbyterian church in Ephesus and a Lutheran church in Ephesus. It was the church in Ephesus. There was one church there, of course.

That may be true today in small villages and towns, but for the most part we have this proliferation. But again, the unity of which the New Testament speaks is a unity of faith where people come together because of a common commitment to truth and to the gospel. Now in our day, we have seen attempts to find unity on the one hand strictly through visible organizational structures. Another way in which we've tried to find unity is to concentrate our efforts on what may be called spiritual unity. I remember back in the 70s when I was in Pennsylvania at the Ligonier Study Center, we hosted a group of Christians who had come from France to visit us, and it was a charismatic group of Christians, but though they shared their charismatic experience, they were from a wide diversity of ecclesiastical backgrounds. Some were Lutherans and some were Roman Catholic and some were Pentecostal and some were Presbyterian and so on. And I had a delightful time with these people, and they talked with great joy and excitement about the unity that they had experienced as being one in the Spirit. You know how with the advent of the charismatic movement, that song, We Are One in the Spirit, became well known to Christians across the country. And these people were really happy that they were able to enjoy the fellowship that they enjoyed with each other despite the barriers of their denominational background. And they were talking to me about being one in the Spirit. And I was amazed at their obvious sense of unity, and I said to them, How have you been able to overcome some of these serious historical differences that you have? And they said, Well, like what, for instance?

And I mentioned a couple of them. It was the wrong thing to do because in five minutes they were at each other's throats over these things. In other words, they were able to have their unity as long as they set aside their doctrinal differences.

And can you sense the tension of that? On the one hand, there's something extremely positive about the fellowship and the spiritual unity that was real, that they were able to enjoy, and that Christians should be able to enjoy fellowship with Christians from other denominations, it would seem to me. But the downside, the danger of that is trying to ignore or overlook the doctrinal differences altogether. That seems to be the drift of our culture today, and the axiom for our times is the statement, doctrine divides.

How many times have you heard that? I mean, have you heard it said doctrine divides? Now, let me ask my studio audience here, how many of you agree with that assessment, the doctrine divides?

Let me see your hands. Just about everybody. In fact, I think everybody raised their hands. I certainly agree with it. I think it's true. Historically, doctrine has a tendency to divide people.

I don't think there's any question about it. And first of all, let me ask, I wonder why it divides. It doesn't seem to divide people in the liberal community nearly to the degree it does among conservatives. And quote, evangelicals seem to always be fighting with one another over doctrine, whereas the trend in liberal institutions and part of the pride of being liberal is to be open-minded and tolerant and pluralistic and all that. How is it that they've been able to achieve such a high level of toleration for viewpoints other than their own, whereas the conservatives, you know, take it all the way to the bank?

They fight over everything. I don't think this explains it altogether, and this may even be a bit simplistic, but one of the things that's often occurred to me is what I have found in the liberal side of the church is this easygoing view towards theology as long as it's not orthodox, as long as it's not conservative. Then they get very vociferous about it, and then you run into narrow-minded liberals.

But I think that I honestly believe, and this is a terrible thing to say, but I believe it. I think that the basic reason why liberal churches are able to tolerate such a wide variety of doctrines is because doctrine doesn't matter to them at all. They have no passion about the content of the Christian faith, whereas in the conservative milieu, people are prepared to give their lives for the truth of the Scriptures and for the truth of God because they see these things as having eternal significance. I think the strongest indictment against 19th-century liberalism was that indictment waged by the Swiss theologian Emil Bruner in his classic work, Das Mittler, or The Mediator, in which he talked about the Christology that developed or degenerated in 19th-century theology that ended in the denial of the deity of Christ and in His atonement and so on. Bruner said that he could define the essence of 19th-century liberalism in one word, and the word was unglauber, or unbelief, unbelief.

He said that 19th-century liberalism was a monument to unbelief, and I agree with him. And I can see why that environment can be very tolerant with respect to the tenets of creedal statements of Christianity because it doesn't matter to them. But creeds do matter to believers because believers are concerned about the content of their faith. And believers who are trying at least to be faithful to the Scriptures, if they're reading their Bibles at all, know that on virtually every page of the epistles of the New Testament, there is an exhortation with respect to guarding the truth of the faith once delivered. And that Paul, for example, is very concerned as he gives his advice to Timothy and to Titus and others to beware of those who would undermine the truth of the apostolic faith by means of false doctrine. Again, the most volatile controversy in the history of theology was the 16th-century Reformation because that doctrine was the doctrine of what is the gospel.

It wasn't a peripheral question, an extraneous matter, a minor detail, but rather the basic question was fought over the issue, what must I do to be saved? And Luther, of course, endured great hardship and the hostility of multitudes of people as the furor of that controversy raged. And towards the end of his life, Luther made this observation. He said, we have seen the light of the gospel break through in our day and brighten the darkness. Remember the motto of the Reformation, post tenebras lux, after the darkness light. Luther said that it would be inevitable that in a short period of time, the truth of the gospel would be hidden once more in obscurity. And the reason he predicted that was that wherever the gospel is preached, it divides. And wherever the gospel is preached, controversy ensues. And people don't want ongoing controversy.

We want peace. Yesterday, I was in the locker room of the golf club and one of my buddies was working on a crossword puzzle, and he was struggling with it. And he asked me, he said, R.C., he said, here's one I can't get.

And I said, what is it? And he told me how many letters there were in the space. And he said, the only clue is the word chamberlain.

Now, if it would have been four spaces, I would have said wilt. But there were more, six or seven. I said, that's Neville, Neville Chamberlain.

And he said, who's that? I said, Neville Chamberlain is the quintessential archetypal image of the person who sells out the store in negotiations. One of the most famous photographs in the 20th century is a photograph of Neville Chamberlain when he was the prime minister of England after he had come back to London from his meetings in Munich where he met with Hitler and his cronies. And there is Chamberlain leaning over the edge of a balcony with his umbrella hanging on his wrist, and his arms are outstretched, and he's saying his immortal words, we have achieved peace for our time.

At the very moment that Hitler was mobilizing the blitzkrieg of Eastern Europe. And so we think of that image in the past of people who would have peace at any price. Again, the message of the false prophets of Israel was that they preached peace, peace when there was no peace. The peace that they proclaimed is what Luther called a carnal peace. Luther said that when the gospel is preached with passion and with accuracy, it does not bring peace. In fact, our Lord Himself said, I came not to bring peace but a sword. Not that we are called to use the weapons of military combat to further the extension of the kingdom.

We are to be peacemakers, and we are to be peaceable people, and we are to be tolerant and kind and patient people. But if you look at the record of history, the prophets of Israel contended for the truth. And every time they did, controversy emerged. John Stott once wrote a little book called Christ the Controversialist. Not just the controversial Christ, but Christ the Controversialist. Because I doubt if any human being in a short period of time on this planet engendered as much controversy in his lifetime as Jesus Christ did.

People were galvanized either for him or against him. The record of the apostolic church in the book of Acts is the record of ongoing unabated controversy. And the controversy focused on the preaching of the gospel.

So controversial was the preaching of the gospel that the religious establishment of the Jewish community, the Sanhedrin, forbade the apostles from preaching the gospel at all. Why? Because it divided people.

Why? Because it was controversial. Now, in our generation, we've been told again and again and again that the highest virtue is peace. We've lived in an age where an atomic bomb has been dropped. We've seen warfare all over the place. And we're tired of disputes. We're tired of people fighting with each other. We're tired of people killing each other.

And thanks be to God, churches aren't burning people at the stake or putting them on torture racks and that sort of thing like happened in earlier centuries. We've learned to coexist with people with whom we disagree. And we value that peace. But I'm afraid the danger is that we value it so much that we're willing to obscure the gospel itself. And so we have to be careful of speaking about unity when we really don't have it.

I sometimes think that we think we have more unity than we actually have. Historically, at the time of the Reformation, the Protestants were not only called Protestants, but they were called evangelicals. They were called evangelicals because they embraced the evangel, the gospel. And historically, though the evangelicals of the 16th century went off and started different denominations, the Church of England, you know, Anglicanism, Episcopal, Lutheranism and Calvinism and so on, nevertheless there was still some foundational principles of unity that bound historic evangelicals together. And the two major points of unity in historic and classical evangelicalism were the two of the solas of the Reformation, one sola scriptura and two sola fide, meaning that all the different Protestant bodies believed that the Bible was the final authority for matters of faith and practice. And they all believed in the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible. And secondly, they agreed on the cardinal issue of the 16th century, namely the doctrine of justification by faith alone. So wherever else they differed on the sacraments and other doctrines, at least you had that cement that bound Protestants together.

And that unity endured for several centuries. It's only in our day that we've seen that group of people who call themselves evangelical who have broken ranks over these two doctrines. Up until 20 years ago, you could almost guarantee that a person who called themselves an evangelical believed that the Bible was the Word of God, that it was infallible, that it was inspired, that it was inerrant. You can't make that assumption anymore.

That unity has been demolished. You could have assumed 20 years ago that anybody who believed, who called themselves an evangelical, that they believed not only that the justification was by faith alone, but that the doctrine of justification by faith alone was essential to the gospel and essential to the Christian faith and that no one would ever negotiate it. You cannot make that assumption anymore today. In fact, one historian argues that the term evangelical now has been almost entirely emptied of its meaning, where historically to be an evangelical meant something doctrinally. That is, it was defined in terms of a particular confession.

Now it tends to be defined by a methodology rather than a theology. And you have the same kind of pluralism rampant in so-called evangelical circles today that we see in historic liberalism. Now, the unity that does exist, thanks be to God, and always will exist, is the unity of the invisible church. It really is a razor's edge, isn't it, to try to live as a Christian as much as possible, the Bible says, to be at peace with all men.

We really need to bend over backwards to keep peace. Yet at the same time, we are called to be faithful to the truth of the gospel and to the purity of the church. And I remember when I was ordained, I had to take a vow to work for the peace, the unity, and the purity of the church. And all of us who were ordained in that church had to take that same vow, three things, peace, unity, and purity. But what I found in the ministry was it was next to impossible to do all three to the satisfaction of everyone else. Because if there was a doctrinal issue where the purity of the church was at stake, if you would speak up, you would immediately be accused of disturbing the peace and the unity of the church. And so the idea was the only way you could really work for the peace and the unity of the church was to forget about the purity of the church.

So how do you do it? It's extremely difficult to be concerned about all three of those elements, and yet I believe it is our duty as Christians to be working for all three. That was R.C. Sproul on this Wednesday edition of Renewing Your Mind. I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham. You can continue studying the doctrine of the church and the history of the church with today's resource offer. When you support the daily outreach of Renewing Your Mind with a donation of any amount, we'll give you access to three resources. First, you'll receive lifetime digital access to the complete series that you heard a message from today, The Bride of Christ. Second, you'll have digital access to its study guide so you can go even deeper. And third, we'll send you the hardcover edition of Sinclair Ferguson's book In the Year of Our Lord, which will introduce you to each century of church history and remind you of the wonderful truth that the Lord is building his church. Request this resource bundle by calling us at 800-435-4343 or at renewingyourmind.org. This offer ends tomorrow so respond today while there's still time. One of the hardest decisions to make is when to leave a church. So how do you know what a true church is and when you should leave? Well, join us tomorrow to find out here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-05-29 02:47:20 / 2024-05-29 02:55:12 / 8

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