Commands Trump Interpretations

Do we live in a theological bubble?  Are we failing to major on the main thing?  Has theology become the focus instead of obedience?  When did it become acceptable to let Calvinism or non-Calvinism determine our biblical approach to the call to make disciples?  Nate Akin wrote an article recently entitled The Conservative Resurgence, Calvinism, and Plurality of Elder (http://www.baptisttwentyone.com/2013/05/the-conservative-resurgence-calvinism-and-plurality-of-elders/).

As I read the article I began to think of one idea. Is it possible that our theological systems dictate how we engage with the command to make disciples?  Which as we know, is the only imperative given directly to the disciples following the resurrection.  Matthew 28:18-20 is widely known as “The” commission statement.  However, all four Gospels and even Luke’s historical account, Acts, contain an idea that contributes to the command to “make disciples.”

- Matthew 28:18-20 tells us that the imperative from Christ is “make disciples,” by going, baptizing, and teaching.  There is no way around the fact that we are commanded to engage in the intentional and unintentional work of making disciples.  Intentionally by pouring into a small group of individuals regularly, unintentionally through relationships with those that do not have a mutual understanding of what you are doing.

– Mark tells us that “we” are to preach the Gospel to all creation.  I suppose that would include the “elect and non-elect.”  Clearly this verse does not single out any segment of the population to be afforded the Gospel.

–  Luke tells us that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed to all the nations.  Repentance is the key to forgiveness!  No one can respond in repentance and faith without the special revelation of God.  We are those called upon vessels used to verbally share the redemptive story.

– John tells us that we are sent out as the Son was sent by the Father.  The Son relinquished the responsibility to you and me.  We have been thrust into a dangerous world, under the authority of the one who controls all things.

– Luke tells us in Acts that our mission encompasses everyone everywhere.  No one is excluded.  God has redeemed some from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  The picture found in the book of Revelation portrays a multi-ethnic group worshipping around the throne room!

In his article, Akin references the idea that many of the persons on either side of the “reformed/unreformed” coin might have more in common than originally thought. He said,

I just want to add a side note about the young reformed group in the SBC. I believe if there was humble, open dialogue on both sides, then they would find that they have much more in common than they think. I think many of these young reformed have been heavily influenced by the CR in that they are committed not only to reformed theology, but also Expository Preaching, an absolute commitment to Penal Substitution that permeates their preaching, and to the primacy of the church.

I agree with his verdict, but caution that the young reformed are Bible believers before they are reformed believers.   Without the Word, there would not be a “reformed system” to follow.  While the reformed system does have MANY thoroughly biblical interpretations, it is not infallible.  The debates we entertain usually center on issues that should be considered secondary or even tertiary.   Nathan Finn said in his article, Calvinism, Cooperation, and the Southern Baptist Convention,

This is my argument: within the Southern Baptist Convention, Calvinism needs to function as a third-order or tertiary issue for the sake of cooperation. I understand that for many folks, their view of the “doctrines of grace” is actually a second-order issue. I know many Southern Baptists of various theological stripes who join a local church partly based upon their understanding of issues like election, effectual calling, and the extent of the atonement. I think this is perfectly understandable. Nevertheless, in the context of the wider SBC, these doctrines should be understood as tertiary rather than secondary (http://betweenthetimes.com/index.php/2013/05/28/calvinism-cooperation-and-the-southern-baptist-convention/).

What I would like to suggest is we all espouse biblical interpretations with our freedom to do so, but must agree upon the imperative command of Christ to “make disciples.”    You are not free to interpret away this command.  Akin does mention the fact that the young men rising up in ministry today are getting back to the necessary expository preaching of God’s Word.  As a pastor/elder you are called to equip the saints, according to Paul in Philippians 4:12.  That work is the labor of the ministry.

If God has called men that have different interpretations to the SAME ministry, then should the SAME ministry be our focus and NOT the interpretations?  Should each and every Bible believing pastor/elder focus on training his congregation to do that which Christ calls?  Wouldn’t that fit into the third component to making disciples, teaching them ALL that I commanded?

In our day and time we have become hung up on theological interpretation, and I think we are missing the “command.”  We have relegated the theological positioning and postulating to stand as the benchmark of fellowship INSTEAD of the command of Christ.  We must unite under the banner of Christ’s imperative instead of encamping ourselves.  This only creates greater division, which is exactly what Satan desires.  If our ideas and interpretations do not functionally help to make disciples, then they need evaluation.

We talk about wanting to have open discussions and debates, but really what for?  If these issues truly are tertiary as Finn suggests, then should we give up our freedom and right to espouse them for the sake of the Gospel?  Should we put aside our meetings, conferences, and panels that do nothing but throw fuel on the fire?  Have theological systems become an obstacle to the Gospel, and the focus of making disciples?

What if we ALL met together for the singular purpose of worshipping Christ, and strategized on how to lead our churches to effectively make disciples of ALL the nations?  What if we ALL worked together for the common good of the Gospel?  What if we did this WITHOUT having a committee to form a document to serve as a “peace treaty!?”  What if “conferences” to combat heresy and false religions, like during the first centuries?

I know I am not suggesting things that haven’t been discussed before, but what in the world will it take for it to finally happen?  When will we lay our theological prejudices aside and unite under the banner of Christ and Him crucified?

Have we missed the singular command of making disciples, for the forest of our theological systems?

Comments

  1. says

    Can one really be a disciple without systematically studying the Scriptures like a Berean “to see if these things be so”—and thirsting to know God, His ways, and His truths better and better? If we are not making that kind of disciple, are we really making disciples? And if we are being used to make that kind of disciple, then will we neglect to teach them such things because our only focus is on making new disciples and not building up the ones we have already?

    In this dark and late hour in the Church’s history, one thing we dare not give any ground on is the historical insistence the vital importance of systematic theology—especially in the face of the current relentless effort by the enemy to cause us to scorn doctrinal divisions and disdain “denominationalism.” We must not forget the importance of truth. The reason we have so many denominations is because our forefathers in the faith were so concerned for the truth that they thought it was worth dividing over. Had they not had such a strong concern for the truth, they would not have preserved it as well as they have.

    Theological truth must be systematic––it must fit together like a doctrinal house built on a foundation where every doctrinal beam fits together with every other. Since men are imperfect, we are unable to perfectly understand how this doctrinal house fits together, so an assortment of different ideas of how it all fits together was developed, based on differences that these founders considered as non-negotiable. Each of these doctrinal houses works well enough as a self-contained unit, and in many ways, each denomination was a different perspective on the same truth––each having a certain handle on the essentials of the truth and a certain degree of error. However, to discard these theological differences would mean to discard the systematic understanding of Biblical truth––knocking down all the doctrinal houses, as it were. Truth is strongest when it is systematically understood. Therefore, division was necessary for the strength of the universal Church.

    Along with the negative side of divisions, there was a positive side of preservation. Were it not for the passion for truth that divided the Church, the lack of passion for the truth would have strangled the Church into a dead, meaningless unity, full of people speaking Jesus’ name but not knowing Him. And some denominations today can be well described in such terms; but thank God, there are still some denominations and congregations who care enough about the truth to maintain an emphasis on a systematic understanding of that truth.

  2. mike white says

    There is knowing truth and there is doing truth. It is better to do the little truth you know then to know a lot of truth but fail to do much of it.

    But what if you think you know truth but it isnt? Then your doing isnt of truth but against it. Thus our goal is to grow in the knowledge of the truth AS we continue to walk in it.

    If we preach easy believism and ‘convert’ many who are not disciples then we have sinned against the truth. Jesus is LORD as well as Redeemer and we are to serve Him as well as be saved by Him. Is one saved if they are not seeking to serve Jesus? …nope.

  3. says

    This addresses the third office of Christ from the first: Prophet, Priest and King.

    I’ve always said that there is no love without truth and there is no truth without love. Those are the first two offices. But there is neither one without obedient action. That’s the third. If all we do is argue truth and complain because we aren’t loving enough, yet we aren’t obedient to the truth, then we have neither love nor truth and all our arguing is in vain.

  4. Bruce H. says

    Andy,

    Great post on a difficult subject. I tend to agree with you very much. It would be good for a pastor who has either interviewed, just started or has been in a church for many years to do an evaluation. Hopefully, prior to coming to the church. First, the pastor should write down the very biblical principles he is, or will be, trying to accomplish. Of course, he must be doing these already in his own life with success and his church must understand and agree with them by their actions and with their pocket book. Second, have the church write down what they think the biblical principles appear to be in the church. Who are we and where are we going is critical for a church. If it is not willing to make disciples and invest time and money to bring these people to maturity, it is not a church.

    Please share your principles that you would expect a church to have.

  5. Andy says

    Bruce,

    First principle I see in Scripture is to make disciples. I know that sounds like an easy way out, but I think that really is the hardest. How to do that effectively may be determined according to the context. How you teach your people the truths of Scripture may very from context to context. The truths never change but delivery may. The next couple of things, I think flow from a foundation to make disciples.

    Fellowship amongst the body is a necessary component. I think it is a biblical principle that the body get along and help one another. Found in Acts in several places. Giving to each as they had need, and ministering to each other. A natural overflow of this, results in the effective evangelistic work outside the church. Churches that are not internally in fellowship with one another, will NOT effectively make new disciples.

    Worship- faithful worship in spirit and truth. Lead people to worship Christ and adore Him. In this there is; biblical preaching, prayers, giving, missions, etc. There is not enough discussion on biblical worship today. Our preaching is watered down applicatory sermons. We don’t preach the point of the text and then draw application. We start by how this text is supposed to do something to/for you.

    Maybe I helped what you were looking for!

    • Bruce H. says

      Andy,

      I agree. I think it also depends on the authority flow. If the pastor is the CEO we need to rethink how we address the process if he does not think discipleship is not the way we are to be set up. Scripture is our authority and go from there. If the people are not willing to mature and produce their spiritual gift in these instances we need to rethink the church we are in. Moving on would be my next thought if it is evident that this church chooses not to go by Biblical principles and truth.

  6. Andy says

    Please understand I am not advocating simplistic salvation through praying prayers, etc. I am not saying that anyone unite with that type of salvific plan. I am saying that anyone who agrees with the Lordship of Christ as the determinative of salvation, needs to be worked with. Issues like limited v. Unlimited atonement, and irresistible v. personal decision to reject, are examples of individuals that we need to work along side. the common purpose among each is to MAKE DISCIPLES. That must be our focus regardless. Maybe this will clarify any misconceptions about my thoughts.

  7. says

    Gee, what about us “old reformed” guys. Kinda feel left out. BUT, agree totally on the imperative of disciple making. Here’s what I want to know, a) how do you know when you have made one, b) are you ever done with a disciple so that you can move on to another one?
    If we don’t have a standard to gauge a disciple by how do we know if we are successful? And what should that standard include? I’m thinking its a life committed to Christ, lived according to His teachings, but shouldn’t it involve a modicum of theological understanding? And what else?

  8. Andy says

    Clark,

    Great observations. Jesus spent a specific amount of time with His, but them admonished them toward continual pursuit. Paul said he had not attained it yet! I think a life long pursuit of Christ displays a genuine disciple, not a “specific” period of time. I am not advocating the “removal” of theological distinction or even the modicum of theological understanding. I am encouraging the pursuit of making LIFE LONG disciples instead of “converts” and we should ALL regardless of theological interpretations work together toward that end! I love the “old reformed guys” comment! Real funny!!!