We live in a day when the church is characterized by almost anything but devotion to the teaching or doctrine – in fact, quite the opposite! These days you will often hear phrases like “doctrine divides”, as if it were even possible to have an absence of doctrine, or as if Christianity did not require belief in the great truths of Scripture. But there is no such thing as a doctrinal vacuum. Some churches are fond of the slogan, “deeds, not creeds”, as if Christianity could be reduced to nothing but a moral code or as if the Great Commission could be reduced to a social cause.
The first Christians in the book of Acts (not to mention the Apostles themselves) would not have recognized any such thing as being Christian at all. Such notions would have been utterly foreign to them. In fact, one of the first things that we learn about the early church is that they were devoted to the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42).
Doctrine or teaching – in the form of the sermons and speeches of the Apostles and others – takes up about a full 1/3 of the text of the book of Acts. Even in a book whose title itself suggests action (deeds!), it is the words (the doctrine or ‘creeds’) of the apostles that take center stage. The idea of believers on the whole being devoted to teaching or doctrine is practically a foreign concept these days. A casual glance at the doctrinal statement of the average evangelical church will show an alarming tendency to minimize doctrine, if not dismiss it altogether. Many do not even have one.
We live in a day when churches are increasingly abandoning the biblical model for worship and evangelism in favor of a market or consumer-driven approach to ministry. In his book, Ashamed of the Gospel, John MacArthur writes,
The experts are now telling us that pastors and church leaders who want to be successful must concentrate their energies in this new direction. Provide non-Christians with an agreeable, inoffensive environment. Give them freedom, tolerance, and anonymity. Always be positive and benevolent. If you must have a sermon, keep it brief and amusing. Don’t be preachy or authoritative. Above all, keep everyone entertained. Churches following this pattern will see numerical growth, we’re assured; those that ignore it are doomed to decline. (p.45)
Is that the way to grow as individual believers or as a church? Absolutely not! Scripture is filled with exhortations that tell us in no uncertain terms that if we want to grow and be fruitful in the Christian life, we must be people of the Book. We must be devoted to the apostles’ teachings in the Scriptures.
Psalm 1 tells us that it is only the one who ‘delights in the law of the LORD and meditates on it day and night’ (v.2) who will be like “a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (v.3). Colossians 3:16 tells us to, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . . .” That could also be translated, ‘Let the Word of Christ dwell among you.’ The word “you” is plural there. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” So if we want to be all we meant to be and be able to do every good work, we need to be in the Word.
Sounds more like ‘No deeds without creeds’, doesn’t it?