Love and Doctrine

by John Hendryx

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.

For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.

Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts.

Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.

Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns." The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.

- Psalm 96: 3-10

All who worship images are put to shame, those who boast in idols— worship him, all you gods!

- Psalm 97:7

Christ is king over all creation. Rejoice and celebrate the greatness of His majesty. He is the one True God and He commands all nations to worship Him in love. All other gods are idols and worthless. But Jesus Christ reigns above all gods. The church is God's chosen vehicle of blessing to the peoples of the earth - that we would bring them the knowledge of the True God. That all who acknowledge His exclusive kingship will receive pardon for their rebellion against Him.

In the passages above, the term "gods" comprehends whatever is accounted as deity, and in this day of pervasive secularism men account themselves deity, for they trust ultimately in their own reason over Revelation, thus incurring the wrath of God. According to God's word, idolatry of this kind is the worst type of sin ... even worse than murder because it is ultimately the murder of someone's soul. It is the sin, if held to the end, that men will never be forgiven of. So important is this that God's exclusivity is placed as the foremost commandment (Exodus 20:3) given to men. When we fail to glorify God, we always end up glorifying something else. And when we trust in our own reason over God's word, we ascribe majesty to that which has none and bring destruction to the people in the world.

People often wonder why God requires belief in Him ... and the reason is really quite simple: because all else done apart from Him is falsehood. God alone is true and when we promote any other cause without glorifying Him in it, we bring harm to others - promote a lie and we murder their souls. So to call people in the world to repentance is the greatest act of love. The gospel declares that all that does not spring from a heart that loves God is hateful, abusive and boastful. All men already know in their heart that those who practice idolatry deserve to die - but they continue to do this and give approval to others who practice the same (Rom 1:32).

The Scriptures make clear that all persons know the truth and suppress it (Rom 1:18) - thus all "good" they do in this world is hurtful to others, because they do not bring glory to God in it. If we abuse others in this way then our purpose serves some lesser harmful purpose such as to glorify self, which ultimately, God says, is not loving our neighbor. John Calvin says, "...the godhead is really and truly found in none but the Maker of the world ...those religions are vain and contemptible which corrupt the worship of Him."

So when a Christian calls people to flee from sin, while it may not win him a popularity contest, it surely is done out of great love for that person, a concern for that person's eternal welfare. We do great harm to the world when we give idols the honor due to God only, so idolaters are grossly deluded and impiously fashion gods to themselves. Secularists, who trust only in their self-declared authority and preferences, have conspired to believe a lie and they promote this worlds' harm whenever they so exalt own reason, which has no ground for authority. Men of every age think themselves wise, especially those in our own, but all of our wisdom put together is stupid and will only bring us to ruin. Truth is not determined by the fleeting opinions of men or even a multitude of men. Man can boast in nothing of his own, and as long as we continue to refuse to celebrate God, we despoil Christ the honor due His name.

In the present day and age many exalt love over doctrine as if these two things could be separated. Pop culture recently has become more and more impatient with Christians who show their concern for others by proclaiming the gospel to them. Today it is not seen as love and concern for another's soul so much as hate for them. But the hatred of evil and false doctrine is not a failure to love, but rather, an essential part of it (1 Cor 13:6). Proclaiming the true gospel is, therefore, not unlike confronting a friend who is a junkie or providing medicine for a fatal disease which we have the cure for. It seems there was a time, not long ago, where the world, while rejecting the gospel, still knew it was done out of love. As an example, there was an episode of Seinfeld which showed that the fictional character Elaine actually understood this. David Puddy, her "Christian" boyfriend, confirms that he is religious and is not concerned that Elaine is not, because he is "not the one going to Hell." Here is part of their dialogue:

Elaine: David, I'm going to hell! The worst place in the world! With devils and those caves and the ragged clothing! And the heat! My god, the heat! I mean, what do you think about all that?

Puddy: Gonna be rough.

Elaine: Uh, you should be trying to save me!

Puddy: Don't boss me! This is why you're going to hell.

Elaine: I am not going to hell and if you think I'm going to hell, you should care that I'm going to hell even though I am not.

But recently the rhetoric against Christians has taken a decisive turn, which perhaps is more in line with what the church has historically had to face. Declaring that others need the grace of God is now met with hostility, as if hate were its motive. But as Christians we must never be taken captive by the culture, especially in such a critical matter as people's souls. If we become reduced to a love that has no content, then the evil one blinds the church to its true purpose.

J.I. Packer once said, "Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep."

Many evangelicals in purpose driven and emerging churches tend to greatly minimize doctrine, and would say they beg to differ with J.I. Packer because they prefer love to doctrine. "We can debate doctrine, they say, and we can spend time differing, but the world is perishing because we do not spend that time showing Love: through doing acts of mercy and godly care."

While not ever minimizing the need for showing our love through acts of mercy, such a simplistic view has failed to resolve the biblical tension that exists between doctrine and love. Remember, Christianity is primarily about what Christ has done for us, NOT what we do for him. Therefore, love without doctrine minimizes Christ and His work, and exalts what we do. Love, rather, flows out of our new life in Christ and what He has revealed to us about Himself in the Scripture. See what the apostle Paul himself says about the relationship between doctrine and love:

"As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." - 1 Tim 1:3-5
The aim of Paul's charge to Timothy to promote sound doctrine is love, he says. If someone is merely promoting a generic love without biblical content then how are we different than any other moralistic religion in the world? Christianity is not about human attainment, but divine accomplishment. It takes doctrinal exposition to understand the grace of God we have in Jesus Christ. True biblical love is not possible unless we understand grace in all its implications.

The world needs something that it doesn't naturally want. They may embrace a generic Christian love we express too them, but it is the message of an exclusive Christ that they need and, apart from grace, don't want... and the proclamation of the message of the gospel is really the greatest way to love people. The medicine may be painful to swallow, because it strips man of all hope in himself, but when we show others that we must take the same medicine, then our sharing the gospel is never condescending. We are all in the same boat. Beggars pointing other beggars to bread. Again the gospel is news about what Christ has done for us not advice about what we do for Him, lest we can boast that something other than the grace of God has saved us.

May the Lord use these thoughts to his glory Amen.