This is the sixth in an ongoing series of posts exploring how we can balance the demands of unity in the Body of Christ with the need for doctrinal accountability and discernment.
- In the first post, I introduced the topic.
- In the second post, I identified the four levels of biblical truth and the appropriate unity response at each level.
- In the third post, I introduced “Brick Wall Doctrine” – truths that are essential to the gospel and cannot be compromised in the church.
- In the fourth post, I started listing what I believe are Brick Wall truths, beginning with the perfection of the Word of God.
- In the fifth post, I identified two more Brick Wall doctrines – the nature of God and the sinful nature of mankind.
Brick Walls, Picket Fences: Part 6
It seems that there continues to exist a lot of misunderstanding about what a “Brick Wall” is. I have defined Brick Wall doctrine as that which separates the true faith from that which is false. We must build a wall of separation between that which is light and what is dark, what is true and what is false. We must protect the church from the destructive effects of heresy.
But the assumption of many is that this is some kind of personal isolation or shunning. It is not. The Brick Wall is more ideological or ecclesiological than it is personal. I have a close family member who has views well outside the Brick Wall. I still have a good relationship with this person – there has been no shunning. But I also would be careful not to do anything that would indicate that this person’s views are Christian, or acceptable. It is possible to maintain a relationship without giving approval to a person’s views or choices.
The major focus of the Brick Wall has to do with the church. Should the church allow into its fellowship, or especially its leadership, one who actively promotes doctrines that are contrary to the gospel? Of course not. We need a Brick Wall. If someone started coming to your church and said, “I believe that Jesus is just one way to God among many,” would you give him a class of high school boys to teach? That’s the Brick Wall. We separate those from leadership and influence in the church who would undermine the work of God with false doctrines, with gospel-denying heresy.
I have been defining these Brick Wall doctrines. There are three more to mention in this post.
Jesus Our Risen Savior and Lord
Everyone wants to create Jesus is their own image. To the hippies of the 60’s Jesus was a peacenik revolutionary. To many Christians, Jesus is the “Chief Republican”. I remember hearing the astounding words of Ellen Degeneres when she came out of the closet. “Jesus was not judgmental.” Wow. Evidently, whatever Bible she has does not have Revelation!
The Jesus of scripture is a baffling figure, often doing the opposite of what people expected. There is some measure of revelation of his nature in the Old Testament. The gospels then reveal quite a lot of who Jesus was. Of course, we know from Philippians 2 that Jesus had veiled his glory and taken the nature of a servant when he walked on earth. It is not until Revelation that the full majesty of the glory of Jesus Christ is revealed – the King of kings and Lord of lords who rides out of heaven to judge the world! As with the nature of God, we must deal with the real Jesus – the one revealed in the pages of scripture – and not try to make a palatable Jesus, one who serves our interests and desires.
The Jesus of scripture is the Lamb of God who came to take away our sins and the one who rose from the dead as King of kings and Lord of lords. We must believe in the Jesus who is revealed in the Word of God – the only hope of mankind. There are four key aspects of the biblical presentation of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is Divine
First, the Bible makes clear that Jesus is not only the Son of God, but also God Himself, the second member of the Trinity. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Theologians call this the “dual nature” of Christ. In His time on earth, Jesus was fully God and fully man; God incarnate. He was not half God and half man. He was 100% divine and 100% human at the same time. Every heresy related to the nature of God in church history has denied one or the other of these truths. In the early church, false teachers often denied that Jesus was really human. Later on, it became common to deny the deity of Christ. We must hold to both truths in an unwavering fashion.
Jesus Died for Our Sins
Second, Jesus was the Lamb of God who died on the cross for our sins. He lived a perfect, sinless life, earning the favor of God in a way we could not. He offered Himself as the payment for our sins. God punished Jesus on the cross for our sins. Now, because He took our sins on Himself, He can offer us His righteousness in exchange. We become righteous because Jesus became sin and paid the penalty for us.
It’s all about the gospel!
Jesus Rose Again
Third, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. That is the clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 15 and many other scriptures. If Jesus did not rise from the dead – physically – we are still in our sins, our faith is in vain and we are “of all people most miserable.” Some deny the resurrection of Christ as religious myth. Others say that Jesus rose spiritually, but not physically. Both views are heresy. Paul makes it clear that the resurrection of Jesus was physical. He was seen by 500 people at one time. It is the bedrock teaching of our faith. Jesus died for our sins, then rose up from the dead physically. His lifeless body was restored and glorified.
Jesus is Lord of All
Finally, when Jesus rose from the dead, He was exalted to the right hand of God and establish once and for all as Lord of all. Before Him, “every knee will bow…and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Romans 14:9 tells us that Jesus did not only die for our sins, but He died so that He could assume His rightful place as Lord of all. He is not running for office. He has been seated at the right hand of the Father and given the name above every name. Jesus is Lord!
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” This is the confession of Christianity that offends our world. No one minds if we worship Jesus. But when we join the saints throughout church history in confessing, “Jesus is Lord of All,” we offend. But that is our confession. We believe that Jesus is the only way to God. He said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” As much as the world hates this doctrine, we must accept it and proclaim it. Many have abandoned the doctrine, but we must not.
When Southern Baptists embarked on an evangelistic effort to target Jewish folks in Chicago, the local paper in Cedar Rapids ran a derisive editorial, accusing us of prejudice and coercion. I wrote a guest editorial in response, explaining that we Christians believe that Jesus is the only way to God. The church began among Jewish people who believed that Jesus was their Messiah. Evangelizing Jewish people is integral to church history. We cannot coerce conversions – if they are real they have to be the work of the Spirit on the heart, not human pressure and manipulation. A week or so later a response appeared from a leader of another Baptist denomination. He accused me of arrogance because I believed that Jesus is the only way to God and that other religions do not provide salvation. He was a nice man, but deadly wrong. If we give up the belief that Jesus is the only way to God, we give up everything! This man identified himself as a wolf among the sheep! The biblical presentation of Jesus is not something we can afford to compromise.
We worship Jesus Christ; God incarnate, the Risen Savior and Lord of all.
Salvation is by Grace thru Faith Alone
We believe that salvation is a gift of God’s grace which we appropriate by faith in Jesus Christ. We deny that our own merit, our good works, our religious rituals or devotion, or any action on our part has any contribution to that salvation. It is wholly a gift of God. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”
I read a disturbing study recently. We Baptists like to pride ourselves on our evangelistic fervor, on teaching the doctrine of salvation by grace. But the survey showed that nearly 60% of Baptists in America believed that works had something to do with their salvation.
Why should God allow you into His heaven? That is the gist of the diagnostic question that Evangelism Explosion asks people. What are you trusting in to get you through the pearly gates? Most people, even church people, believe that they will get in because of something they have done. “I was a member of the church.” “I got baptized and received communion.” “I tried to be a good person.” One person told me, “I am a 3.5 on a 4 point scale. I think I will be okay.” He did not understand. Nothing less than perfection will get you into heaven. If you cannot be sinlessly perfect, you cannot get into heaven by your works.
Do you understand this? Mother Teresa was not good enough to earn her way into heaven. Billy Graham could not get into heaven because of who he is. He is not good enough. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a hero in America, but he was not good enough to earn Heaven by his own works. I cannot make it into heaven because of who I am or what I have done, and neither can you. “There is no one righteous. Not even one.”
That is why Jesus lived and died. He earned heaven by living a sinless life. He took our sins in his body on the cross and died for them. My sins separated me from God, but Jesus took them away. He earned the heaven I could not earn. He paid the price I could not pay. And He gave me the righteousness I could not earn.
Why should God let you into heaven? There is only one right answer. “Because Jesus paid the price for my sins. I have turned from sin and trusted Jesus as my Savior and Lord. I come to you, Father, in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Jesus is Coming Again
Finally, we must believe in the second coming of Christ. We may (and do) disagree about the details of that coming, but the central fact is essential. Jesus will return to judge the world and to establish his eternal glory. The redeemed will dwell with God in glory and the lost face an eternity of judgment in hell. People hate the concept of eternal judgment, but it is Level 1 truth.
Figuring out eschatology can be like wandering through a maze. Premillennial, Amillennial, Postmillennial, Pretribulation, Posttribulation, Preterist – it can be confusing and overwhelming. But there is a core of doctrine that all orthodox Christians agree on.
First, every human being will stand before God to give account. We answer to Him. Jesus came the first time to seek and to save the lost. The second time He comes He will judge the world and rule over it. Every knee will bow before Him and every tongue will confess the rightful Lordship of Jesus Christ over all.
Second, there is a glorious future awaiting those who have received the grace of God. The redeemed will dwell in the presence of God forever. We call that place heaven. It is wonderful beyond anything we can imagine. Romans 8:18 says that our “present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us.” Heaven will be so amazing that the worst of our sufferings will seem nothing compared to its glory.
Finally, there is also a place called hell. It is a place of eternal torment for those who have refused the grace of God. It is the most horrible of truths, but we do not get to pick and choose our beliefs. What the Bible affirms, we must proclaim. Revelation tells us that after Jesus returns to earth, Satan will be bound and brought before God. He will be thrown into the lake of fire to be punished for his sins eternally. Then, God will send those who have not trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord to that same lake of fire, “prepared for the devil and his angels,” and they will receive the wrath of God for all eternity. We cannot close our eyes to this horrible truth.
The rest is detail. We can disagree on the specifics. But we must affirm the basic facts of the Second Coming of Christ.
Here I Stand
Martin Luther confronted the false doctrines and corrupt practices of the medieval Church. He called it back to biblical beliefs. Threatened with serious punishment, even death, he was called to recant his belief in salvation by grace, not works. He looked at his judges and said, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”
We need Christians today with the courage to say, “Here I stand.” Yes, we may cause division when we hold faithfully to these truths, but it is a division that honors God. It is a shame when Christians divide over silly, meaningless things. But it is an equal, perhaps greater shame when we compromise the fundamental truths. If we refuse to erect a brick wall of protection around these doctrines, the enemies of the Cross will attack the people of God and the church will lose its evangelistic zeal. Those who deny these truths are not brothers in Christ. They are wolves among the sheep. We do not fellowship with them, we contend with them.
A warning is in order here. Around these doctrines we must erect a wall of protection. But that wall should be around these fundamental doctrines only. We must not divide and devour each other over doctrines that do not fit in this category. Most of the negative responses I have received on this subject is from my own folks – the theologically-oriented Christians. They are unwilling to admit that their favorite doctrine is not fundamental. They are unwilling to admit that someone can love Jesus Christ and honor the Word while disagreeing with their precious hobby horse doctrine. We must be very careful not to put anyone outside the Brick Wall unless it is absolutely essential.
But on these doctrines, the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, we must be unyielding and unmoving. “Here we stand.” We must erect a Great Wall of Doctrine around these truths. If we want the church to survive and prosper, “we can do no other.”