There they were, talking theology again. It seemed like every time I went upstairs to the second floor of Lincoln Hall, I would find those four guys discussing theology. Travis Campbell was one of them. You can see him here discussing 10 Undisputed Facts About Jesus. As they would discuss theology, I would stand there and listen as long as possible. But truth be told, most of it was over my head.
They discussed things like predestination, the sovereignty of God, election, and man’s free will, or lack thereof (depending on how you define free will). I had a great deal of respect for the men who were in those debates, many have gone on to fruitful ministries.
But my initial reaction to these debates was no different than the typical reaction of most Christians in our day when it comes to all-things theology: “Does it really matter? Can’t we just love Jesus?” I can remember Travis’ rebuke when I uttered such words in his presence, “Dude, you’re getting a master’s in theology, don’t you think you should at least try to understand these things?” He was right. My response was wrong.
My response was born out of laziness and ignorance. I thought I could go into full-time ministry with it not mattering. The problem with this stance is that if God utters a single sentence to mankind, that statement matters deeply because who it was that said it, and how we understand it matters. We cannot easily dismiss what He says with our vain attempts to love Him, thinking that our cheap emotions will satisfy His commands for our obedience. We are to endeavor to know His word, and understand His word.
It was only after I entered ministry that I began to understand the need to discern and know sound doctrine (see 1 Timothy). It was actually my second year of seminary. Several buddies asked me to come over and help them with a small-dying baptist church on Cole Avenue (the church was quite dead, but I had no way of knowing that). They asked me to preach. I did. Then the church, with its one functioning deacon, four matriarchs, and a few stragglers, hired me as a part-time pastor. I was walking on clouds.
I did what most DTS grads do when they enter the ministry, I preached the book I knew the best: Ephesians. Slowly and surely, I made my way through the book preaching it as I best understood it. Then, upon completion of that book, I started preaching through the gospel of John.
It was about John 4 that things at the church really started going bad. Well, that is where I began to realize that things were far worse than I imagined. I was walking through the church just trying to enjoy the moment when I came across one of the matriarch’s of the church, shouting at another matriarch of the church, telling her she needed her proxy vote in order to force the pastor to resign, in others words, get rid of me. (Apparently, in this Baptist church, one could collect proxy votes from other members in order to control things at the monthly business meetings. If you think about that for a moment, you might understand why that church no longer exists today. It is also one of the many reasons I became Presbyterian).
As for this woman, she was upset with me because I kept preaching all that Dallas doctrine. I asked her directly what she meant but she was clueless. She told me I should start preaching some good Baptist doctrine. I asked her what that was, and she said she didn’t know, but that I wasn’t preaching it.
I was later accused of being a Calvinist. Now, the only thing I knew about Calvinism was that this is what Travis and the other guys had been discussing. For me to be accused of being one, was quite surprising. I didn’t know enough theology to be a Calvinist, or anything else for that matter.
Then it hit me. I needed to understand theology. I needed to know what I believed and why. It was slow in coming but the realization finally started sinking into my grey matter. Fortunately, the time as a Baptist preacher served God’s purposes quite well. I stepped down feeling like an utter failure, and also feeling like everything that I did know, was worthless. This is because every time DTS propped up the latest and greatest pastor before us in chapel, I would try to implement their silver-bullet techniques into my ministry. None of the silver bullets worked. (A reason I know there are no silver bullets, only God’s Spirit, grace and word). I was so broken over the failure that I really thought about leaving the pursuit of ministry all together. Only one thing kept me going: Christ. I knew He still called me, still loved me, and still required my faithfulness.
In hindsight, I wasn’t a failure at the Baptist church, as I thought for such a long time. I’m not saying I didn’t make a lot of mistakes. I did. But I was faithful in preaching God’s word. The rejection of that preaching is upon their heads, not mine. It was because I preached what the Bible declared that they rejected me and my ministry. They didn’t like what I found there. I didn’t show up to that church, declare myself a Calvinist and start preaching. I didn’t know what a Calvinist was. I simply opened the word and started preaching, and then was accused of being a Calvinist.
As pastors, we are called to faithfully preach God’s word, and I did so to the best of my ability. Where I did fail was not understanding what I was up against. But the only way to learn that lesson is to go through it. And learn that lesson again, and again, and again. I think Paul’s words come to mind…for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood…
After that short-tenure as a pastor, I ended up going to Park Cities Presbyterian Church, and coming under the ministry of Paul Settle. Over the next two years, I would grow in my understanding of sound doctrine and the need to teach and preach sound doctrine. It is essential to the body of Christ. This is why Jesus, Paul, and Peter warn us so many times against the dangers of false teachers. What we believe does matter. What we teach does matter. What we preach does matter.
Just look at what Jesus says about false teachers in the Sermon on the Mount. “Beware false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” He uses harsh language for these men who love to teach to hear their own voices, but do not teach the word of God faithfully. Then He goes on to explain their end: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
I’m sure many who utter those words, “can’t we just love Jesus and forget doctrine,” will end up as these false prophets. Sound doctrine and right theology do matter. We have to study to find ourselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15) because what we teach and preach has eternal consequences. The one who says that it doesn’t, is either woefully ignorant, as I was, or has never tasted the true grace of God (meaning they are still dead in their trespasses and sins.) Theology matters because we have been given the charge to preach the gospel, which is the power unto salvation. If it doesn’t matter, then we can go to any church, sit under any pastor, believe any doctrine. But this goes agains the entirety of the New Testament.
It is easy to preach the things that people like to hear. There are thousands upon thousands of churches where this is taking place every LORD’s day. And they are full! Paul told us as such, For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers (2 Timothy 4:3). It’s much more difficult to preach faithfully what God’s word say to us, without compromise. If we are going to be faithful to the ministry of the word, we must preach His word faithfully and strive for sound doctrine. Otherwise, we may end up hearing the dreadful words of Christ, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’