Many Christians today are being told by pastors and religious leaders that when it comes to Christian doctrine, it really does not matter what one believes about particular areas of doctrine and theology as long as one embraces Jesus as Lord and Savior or as long as one is sincere in his belief or experience. In this day and age, sincerity and flexibility in biblical interpretation are extolled while certainty and dogmatism are deplored.
While any believer would have to admit that some interpretive issues are relatively minor and Christian love and forbearance are in order, the doctrines that many believers are relegating to the “minor” category are, in fact, extremely major. These are issues that affect the very foundation and fabric of not only Christian living but of the person of God and the plan of God for the believer today. And, it stands to reason that all the various doctrinal views that exist pertaining to a particular issue cannot be correct. If one view stands as the “truth,” then divergent or competing views must fall into the category of “error.” God has declared His truth in His Word, and He wants His children to be certain of the truth. It really does matter…
…what you believe about the purpose and ministry of the church. An improper view of the purpose and ministry of the church has led to much of the mess in which the church now finds itself. Are we supposed to be changing the culture? Are we supposed to be bringing in the kingdom? Are we supposed to be “winning souls” every church service? Are we supposed to be feeding the hungry and clothing the naked? Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus makes it clear that the local church exists to equip believers to be ministers of Jesus Christ for the glory of God. When we understand that the church is Christ‘s body and that the local church exists for the purpose of equipping, admonishing, and edifying the saints as they serve as ambassadors of Christ out in the world, then we will focus our energy on being faithful children of God who meet together on a regular basis to better understand God‘s message and will for our lives.
…what you believe about the rapture. An improper view of the imminent return of Jesus Christ for His church has led believers to become fearful of the world around them. Because they have confused the rapture and the second coming of Christ (prior to the establishment of His kingdom), they are looking for “signs” and fearing the tribulation that will come upon the world. Their focus has shifted away from certainty and comfort to worry and fear. But God wants His children to await His any-moment return and find comfort in the fact that we will not have to endure the seven-year tribulation that will bring disaster to this sin-cursed world.
…what you believe about the kingdom of God. We are not currently living in the “kingdom” as prophesied in the Old and New Testaments. Despite what many Reformed and Covenant theologians believe, Jesus Christ will literally rule and reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem upon this earth in the future for a period of 1,000 years. Our responsibility on the earth at this moment is not to “bring in the kingdom” or even to “do kingdom work.” Jesus Christ commands the church to “make disciples” and “fight the good fight of faith” as we embrace the truth, live the truth, and propagate the truth daily.
…what you believe about sign gifts and the timing of their cessation. God has already revealed in His Word everything that He wants us to know in this age. When the canon of Scripture was completed following God‘s final revelation to John on the Island of Patmos, the Holy Spirit ceased from using the gifts of signs, tongues, and prophecy—revelatory gifts designed to relay God‘s Word and authenticate the gospel to the Jews. No other revelation from God (which was the purpose of the sign gifts) is needed. Now, the responsibility of God‘s people is simply to get to know Him better through His Word and to faithfully heed and obey the Word He has given to us. To believe that God is still speaking today through these means is to deny the sufficiency of Scripture and open oneself up to all forms of error and deceit—something the god of this world is ready to “reveal” to all who will listen.
…what you believe about the eternal security of the believer. Either salvation is by grace through faith alone, or salvation is through our own effort, merit, or “will.” The Scriptures are definitive in declaring that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are strong enough not only to save a sinner but also to keep him or her saved through their power. One‘s understanding of not only the nature and purpose of salvation but also the person of God is extremely important. The apostle Paul made it clear that any “gospel” not consistent with the gospel he declared—grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ—is under God‘s curse, for it is not truly “good news.”
…what you believe about Israel and the church. God‘s promises to Israel declared in the Old Testament are still valid. God has not withdrawn His promises, nor has He given them to a new group of people. Those who embrace a “Covenant Theology” as well as many today who categorize themselves as “Reformed” believe that God will not keep His promises to Israel. Believers must understand that the church has not replaced Israel, nor has the church “merged” into Israel. To believe that God‘s promises are void or have been given to another people or are symbolic rather than literal is to misunderstand, misinterpret, and misapply Scripture and, worse, to charge God with failing to keep His promises.
… what you believe about the gospel message. The gospel, or “good news” of Jesus‘ substitutionary death and resurrection, is non-negotiable. Both the content of the gospel and the way in which it is appropriated to one‘s life matter. The gospel is the “good news” that although all people are born sinners and face the penalty of death, Jesus Christ—God in the flesh—died and rose again as the substitutionary sacrifice for sinful man in order that he might be reconciled to God. Grace and works are mutually exclusive. Salvation does not come both through man‘s will and work and also through God‘s calling and grace. The issue here is, literally, life or death—spiritual life and eternal relationship with God or spiritual death and eternity in the lake of fire. Nothing is more important than the object of one‘s faith and trust and one‘s understanding that spiritual life is appropriated only through faith alone. To minimize doctrinal differences with those who embrace and propagate a “works” salvation is a serious error.
In conclusion, we must reject the advice of those who encourage Christians to relegate important doctrinal truths to a place of insignificance. And, again, the issue here is not simply disagreeing on a particular intepretation or application of one biblical text. The issue centers around the totality of biblical teaching on issues that affect not only the doctrine of salvation but of godly Christian living and the very person and nature of God Himself. It really does matter what we believe.
— Matt Costella