Doctrine and Life

from Mar 19, 2010 Category: Articles

This past Sunday I was blessed with the opportunity to preach, this time at Reformation Orthodox Presbyterian Church near Denver. The pastor there is my friend and co-laborer and Highland Fellow Kevin Swanson. I preached what has become of late what I call my “traveling sermon,” that sermon that I give when I visit sundry pulpits around the country. My text is John 13: 1-17, where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. I suggest in that sermon that, strangely, we who are Reformed, are often proud of ourselves for being Reformed. I argue that we would likely have joined Jesus in washing the disciples’ feet, missing the point that our own feet are filthy. We confuse believing in the doctrine of total depravity with having a deep sense of our own sin. One is affirming a doctrine, the other a more existential awareness of our own condition.

A similar phenomena is at work with respect to our doctrine of Scripture. We who are Reformed not only affirm the inspiration, infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible, we champion its sufficiency. We produce and we read many of the scholars that frame and defend these doctrines. But, I’m afraid we have confused all this with believing the Bible. Our lips say we believe, but our lives say our lips lie.

The most common way we demonstrate our unbelief is that we don’t avail ourselves of the Bible. We don’t read it. We don’t read it to our families. We don’t go to churches that preach it. Or, we don’t drink deep of the Bible preaching that is presented before us. Some of us even spend more time studying and defending the doctrine of Scripture than we spend studying the message of Scripture. We are more interested in the latest theological debates than the ancient wisdom of the Book.

Even when we read the Bible, however, we often insulate ourselves from its message. Like dispensationalists on crack, any text that touches on our own sin gets relegated to some other dispensation. That was for then, we tell ourselves. We live in a different culture, we tell ourselves. When the Bible calls into question our own choices and lifestyles we simply wave this magic wand, “The Bible couldn’t possibly mean that…” We come to His Word with an a priori commitment that it tells us nothing more challenging than “Be nicer.”

Perhaps most pernicious, and another favorite among the Reformed, we allow our studies to muddy the life-giving waters, rather than to give clarity. That is, we search the commentators, cross reference the Word studies, and pile our sundry study tools on top of the text until we can no longer see the text. We push ourselves to a skepticism that allows us to remain in our sins, concluding, “Who really knows what it says?” Luther answered this spirit in Erasmus with this pithy nugget of wisdom, perfect for such scholars, because it comes to us in Latin- Spiritus Sanctus non est skepticus. The Holy Spirit is not a skeptic. He speaks with clarity, and when we take our fingers out of our ears, then we hear the Master’s voice.

He calls us not just to believe His Word is true, but to believe the truth of His Word. May He bless us all with ears to hear, and hearts that believe.