Whenever I hear of a new church that I don’t know much about, I usually look up their website to find out what they believe. Whether it’s non-denominational, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, or any part of the spectrum, the primary points of confession on their websites are almost always the same. Briefly, it usually goes like this:
•We believe in the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who created all things.
•We believe that Jesus Christ was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, led a perfect life, died an atoning death, rose from the dead, sits at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead.
•We believe that the Holy Spirit dwells in each Christian, giving them faith, and allowing them to lead a godly life.
•We believe that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, being the sole authority of the Church.
The beliefs of each specific church usually starts to diverge after these primary points. Some of them believe that Christians having the ability to speak in tongues and prophesy. Some of them claim that their church is filled with miraculous healings and revivals. Some of them talk about the turning point when a Christian “makes a decision for Jesus.”
Even if you dig deeper in their official teachings, many churches tend to fill their public confessions with vague statements that have some wiggle room for interpretation. American churches tend to be afraid of commitment to any specific doctrine, because they want to be all-inclusive and facilitate everyone’s opinions. It is not necessarily a terrible thing when churches are vague or very general in their summary of beliefs. Sometimes it is necessary to be concise when giving a brief overview of what a church confesses. However, a vague and weak statement of confession, both when written or publicly proclaimed, is an indication that a church is avoiding that harsh realities of Scripture. A confession of beliefs that is void of any controversial teachings tends to be the most attractive. The ambiguity of doctrine and the preaching of “feel good gospel” is what makes non-denominational churches so attractive to many.
This lies in stark contrast to the reality of Scripture. The harsh truth that so many Christians fail to admit is that everyone is a sinner who is intrinsically opposed to what God has to say. Contrary to what members of the church growth movement have to say, unbelievers don’t resist the Church because it’s stale or old-fashioned or hypocritical. In reality, unbelievers resist the Church because they are enemies of God by nature. Even Christians, before they are brought to faith, were bound to sin and unbelief under the law. As Paul tells us in Ephesians 2 –
“You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
We live in a world that makes every effort it can to resist the harsh truths of God’s Word. Popular music, hip pastors, and a softer message can’t make people a part of the Church. That power is reserved solely for God’s Word. The Word of God is the only thing that can renew a sinful heart and plant the seed of faith. Romans 10:17 reaffirms this truth – “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The Word is the only means by which the Spirit works faith – and that Word must be taught and proclaimed in its entirety, including the truths that stand completely opposed to our society.
To be fair, some churches must do a better job of applying the gospel. The law cannot soothe a guilt-stricken heart. It only multiplies the guilt ten-fold. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can give the guilty conscience peace and reassurance. This doesn’t mean that the law has no place in our churches. The law must be proclaimed from our pulpits and our confessions so that it may fulfill its purpose – to kill the sinful nature in order that Christ may raise it again, blameless and holy in God’s sight. “We were once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and we died” (Romans 7:9).
There is no gospel without the law. If humanity is not dead in sin, then there is no reason for forgiveness. The law has to be upheld in its entirety – if not, the gospel has lost its meaning. And in proclaiming even the harshest convictions of the law, the gospel becomes that much more beautiful. If the world is convicted of more sins, including the ones that are held highly in society, then the grace of God abounds all the more for the forgiveness of these sins.
It’s disappointing when churches don’t understand this reality of Scripture. So many churches believe that by watering down the law they can draw in more people. This might even work at first. But if we don’t fully realize our sinfulness, how can we know the gospel? It’s simple – by preaching the fulness of the law, we can administer the fulness of the gospel. There is no sin that the gospel cannot overcome.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
Ephesians 2:4-6 (ESV)