This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'(Matthew 15:8-9)
It is, therefore, of the greatest importance for every believer, and particularly for theologians, to know which scriptural truths, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, have been brought to universal recognition in the church of Christ. By this process, after all, the church is kept from immediately mistaking a private opinion for the truth of God. [Herman Bavinck]
Most evangelical Christians assume that they are “Bereans.” Some have even given that name to their church! The Bereans, you know, were said to be of a more noble character than the Thessalonians in that they listened to Paul’s teaching and then searched the Scriptures to see if what he said was true or not. (See Acts 17]
But the fact is that the majority of professing Christians and local churches today do not “search the Scriptures” before they embrace some teaching that has been handed to them since childhood. They don’t search. They assume. And this is how evil enters in among us, bringing us into bondage and leading us away from Christ. Many pastors preach doctrines with a virtual “thus saith the Lord” authority when in reality the Lord hath not “saith” any such thing.
Recently I read a church constitution and bylaws. Included in the list of doctrines which must be believed before someone can be a member were:
- No consumption of alcohol
- Divorced persons can never serve in the office of pastor, elder, or deacon
- Members must cease from all work on the Lord’s Day
And of course we could go on and on and on with a never-ending list of “Bible doctrines” that have in reality been created by men.
Herman Bavinck’s words (quoted above) are wonderful. Scriptural truths which, by the Holy Spirit working in the Christian, have been brought to a universal recognition in the church – these are the common creed. When doctrines which have not been accepted to that degree are pressed upon us, we are in great danger of mistaking man’s private opinion for the truth of God. And that is a disaster. It is an open door for the enemy of our souls to send in His agents.
Did you know that many “Bible-believing” churches today will actually ex-communicate a person if they divorce? It’s true. Over and over again we talk to people who were the long time victims of terrible domestic abuse by a wicked spouse and when they separated from that abuser, they were threatened by their church with ex-communication. Numbers of them ultimately were “handed over to Satan” by their pastors and fellow church members.
Now, think on this very carefully. Is there a universal conclusion throughout the Christian church which recognizes the reasons for which God permits divorce? Let me help you answer the question:
- John Piper and Jim Ellif and others say God does not permit divorce EVER for any reason.
- Many teach that adultery and desertion are permissible reasons for divorce, but that remarriage is not permitted
- Others permit remarriage
- Many if not most deny that a Christian who is victimized by a domestic abuser can divorce the abuser
- Myself and a growing number of others insist (and we are right, you know!) that God permits divorce for habitual, unrepentant, ongoing violation of the wedding covenant vows
So, which is it? Does that sound like a doctrine that the Holy Spirit has led the Christian church to universal recognition of? We agree on the deity of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the inspiration of Scripture, the necessity of the new birth, the second coming of Christ, the final judgment….how can one even be a Christian and not confess these truths?
And yet as we said, many churches will actually ex-communicate a woman who divorces her long-time abuser husband if she even separates from him and refuses to return, just as readily as if she stood up in the congregation and announced that she rejects Jesus Christ as the Son of God!
And so, evil comes into the church. Evil-doers creep in among us. They are even enabled and encouraged in their wickedness. All because doctrines of men are elevated to the authority of God’s own Word. Many if not most churches have a lesser or greater degree of legalism’s yoke pressing down upon the flock. Others go the libertine route and announce perversions of God’s Word to be Scripture, rejecting the Lord’s plain truth given to us. The enemy delights in either route.
We cannot love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and soul if we wrap our arms around falsehood anymore than the Pharisees loved Him. In fact, when the true and living Christ shows up among such a people, He is hated and rejected because He is not the idol god they have created.