Just me and you…
…and I’m not too sure about you.
Too often we Christians seem to act that way about “correct” theology. For example:
“There is a stream of sound teaching, sound doctrine, sound theology, that runs all the way back to the Apostles. It runs through Athanasius and Augustine, through Luther and Calvin, the great Reformation and Reformers, and the Puritans, and everything seems so clear to them. Through the Westminster divines and the pathway of Spurgeon and David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and S. Lewis Johnson, and Jim Boice, and to R. C. Sproul. That’s the stream of sound doctrine. The heroes of this generation are people in that stream. We know who they are. You’ve been hearing about them this week. We go back to John Rogers, and the 288 Marian martyrs. Those are our heroes.” – John MacArthur
The quote above is from the just-concluded “Strange Fire” conference that MacArthur hosted where he and others labored to prove conclusively that the quarter of a billion Charismatics in our world are in fact following demons and not Jesus. The essence of the quote, and indeed the conference, is to make sure that we all know that there is a continuous narrow stream of folks who have doctrine right and that he, and others who agree with him, are the keepers of the stream in this present age and we need to get with the program.
I find his historical stream interesting. Pairing Luther and Calvin as stream-dwellers is a bit startling. Luther for sure, and to some extent Calvin, held doctrinal positions that MacArthur’s writings disagree with; to say nothing of the disagreement the two had with each other. There are also areas where Athanasius, Augustine and in particular Lloyd-Jones clearly differ with MacArthur. All this leads me to believe that a certain amount of doctrinal pollution is allowed to stay in the stream but not too much, although it is less clear what and how much is too much.
In summary though the message seems to be that there will be a doctrinal entrance exam at the gates of heaven and we darn well better pass. MacArthur and others like him are self-appointed guardians of truth. I’ve met John MacArthur. I have one of his study Bibles that he has autographed personally. But this obsession with being “right” doctrinally and exposing others who are “wrong” really bothers me. It strikes me as dogmatic and there is good reason why that word makes us cringe.
Dogmatism is defined by my dictionary as “the belief that there is no other way of making sense of and engaging an issue except the one you present.” This seems to be the position of the Strange Fire Conference. Dogmatism strips us of the ability to listen to and understand those who differ. Whatever drives dogmatic views, be it fear, pride or even an earnest conviction that we alone are right, we run smack into Paul’s warning that “knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” Dogmatism deprives us of our ability to “walk humbly”. It causes us to “think of ourselves more highly than we ought.” Instead of servants we become thought police.
Am I saying that we can’t know truth? No. While it clear that our finite minds can’t know all truth the desire to study and learn is admirable. I certainly am not advocating a sense of hopeless fear that we haven’t got a chance to figure anything out. But our security doesn’t rest in knowledge. It rests in our confidence that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” It rests in knowing we are not saved by being right but by trusting in Christ.
Augustine, one of the stream-dwellers lauded by MacArthur, confronted those who wanted to narrow the stream to include only those they judged doctrinally pure. His scathing comment was “They are like frogs in a marsh, sitting and croaking ‘We are the only true Christians.’” I wonder what he would think of the Strange Fire Conference.