As we ponder the doctrine of the church, our next year’s Theology Conference theme, it is vital that we know who and whose we are. Apart from this truth, we will become nothing more than another dying organization or institution. Like in the days of Samuel (1 Sam. 4), it will result in the church being referred to as Ichabod, the glory of the Lord has departed.
Here is how John G. Stackhouse, Jr., ed. Evangelical Ecclesiology: Reality or Illusion? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 9, powerfully makes this point:
When we, the church, are confused about who we are and whose we are, we can become anything and anyone’s. We can become a goose-stepping, Hitler-saluting abomination, as we were in the middle of the last century in Germany. We can become a self-righteous, self-centered, and racist boot on the neck of our neighbors, as we were in South Africa until the end of apartheid. We can become a machete-wielding, genocidal horror, as we were in Rwanda just a few years ago. We can become a corpulent, self-important irrelevance, as we are in so much of America today. And we can become a sad, shrunken ghost pining for past glory and influence, as we are in Canada, Britain, and most of Europe. When the church is confused about who it is and whose it is, it can become just another institution, just another collective, just another voluntary society. So we need ecclesiology – the doctrine of the church – to clarify our minds, motivate our hearts, and direct our hands. We need ecclesiology so that we can be who and whose we truly are.
In our day of tsunami-like moral and cultural changes, we need to be reminded of the doctrine of the church. And although this is a doctrinal truth, it is necessary not for the sake of doctrine alone. This doctrinal truth has practical implications. When we forget this doctrine, we, as the church of Jesus Christ, follow the cultural winds, or we follow after the spirits of the age, or we are coopted by someone else for the propagation of their own agenda. History is replete with examples, a number of them mentioned in the Stackhouse’s quote.
In contrast, and positively, we need this doctrine so that we can “clarify our minds, motivate our hearts, and direct our hands. . . . so that we can be who and whose we truly are.” As the church, we are the transformed people of God who influence and impact culture, not follow the mores of culture, we follow the Spirit of the ages, not the spirit of the age, and we are preeminently given to living under the Lordship of Christ in His kingdom and making His name great, not fitting in someone else’s agenda.
The heart of the doctrine of the church is the gospel. It is the gospel that creates the church. It is the church that proclaims and propagates the gospel. It is the church that manifests the gospel.
This will be our theme and focus of next year’s Theology Conference. Please plan to join us!