Simple Depth in Glorious Doctrine

Sometimes the simplest of doctrines are the ones we need to remember most. IN churches like the one I serve, there are always folks who are interested in the “deep” things. And, quite often, the things these folks consider to be deep are primarily things that are hard to understand or not broadly known. While we want to study all biblical doctrine, we can, if we are not careful, become fascinated with the obscure and fail to embrace and cherish the simple and true.

Christians, may I remind you that depth does not equal obscurity? May I also remind you that simple does not mean shallow. Sometimes deep study and deep faithfulness means learning to embrace with all of your being the things that every Christian should know.

Here is an example of a few things said in Psalm 18 that we all should love deeply.

Psalm 18:30-31a

30 This God—his way is perfect;
the word of the Lord proves true;
he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
31 For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?

Let me point out four doctrines, lovely doctrines, simple doctrines, deep doctrines, that we should love from those lines. First, note the perfection of God. David refers to God by saying, “his ways are perfect.” That is not a shallow truth. God’s ways are perfect. All that the Lord is and all that the Lord does is perfect. There is no flaw. There is no sin. There is no taint. God is absolutely, unquestionably, immeasurably perfect.

How important is that doctrine? How does it change us? When the Lord says that he will do a thing, our response must never be to measure it by whether or not we approve. God’s ways are perfect. Our response, when we see that the Lord does a thing should be to ask the Lord to reshape us in our sinfulness to love and embrace his perfection. Thus, when God speaks of things with which we are uncomfortable, we are the ones flawed, not the Lord.

Second, the word of the Lord proves true. This is a reminder that not only is what God does perfect in every way, all that God says is true. For David, this helped him to embrace the Pentateuch and the words of the prophets around him. For us, this develops for us our doctrine of holy Scripture.

Just like thinking of the ways of God as perfect, we now think of his word as true. So, what happens when our experience or our best understanding stands in contradiction to the word? WE have a choice to make. We either decide that we are more true than the word of God or that the word of God is more true than our experience. Christians, this is a vital piece of doctrine to get right, as it will shape everything you think you know.

Third, God is a shield for all who take refuge in him. What a glorious truth this is. God is a gracious God. God receives kindly those who come to him for shelter. Consider, there is no rule beyond God that says he has to do this. He could turn us away in our cries for his mercy. But he does not.

Here is a doctrine that helps us to understand the grace of God. We are all a people in danger. Our sin would cause us to be eternally condemned. But God is a shelter for all who take refuge in him. If you come to the one true God seeking shelter, he will grant it. We know from the rest of Scripture that there is only one way to come to God for shelter, through the person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6). But we also are gloriously encouraged by the truth that all who do come to Jesus in faith and repentance are genuinely saved (Rom. 10:9-10, 13).

Fourth, and finally, notice that David also tells us that there is only one God. Who is God but the Lord? Much of the world thinks in the terms of multiple divinities. Much of the world assumes all religions are the same. But the word of God tells us that there is not another God, period.

This doctrine is vital to the believer. We know that all other world religions are false, because we know that there is only one God who may only be approached through the person and work of Jesus. All other claims of authority are illegitimate, because we know that there is only one God. All that oppose God do not merely oppose a religion, they oppose the one and only Creator and Lord. And all who have the favor of God have blessing that can never be removed, because God is the only God. There is no competition for God. There is no alternative to God. There is only the one God.

You might say that all these things are easy to know. Perhaps they are. But that does not make these shallow. These are vital truths. And the more you think about them, the more you embrace them, the more you will love the Lord you serve. I’m glad that we have the opportunity as believers to delve into end times, to think about election, to seek to understand the intricacies of the trinity, to ponder the covenants. But I’m even gladder that we are given by God the chance to know that he is the only God, that is ways are perfect, that his word is true, and that he welcomes all who run to him for shelter. These things should change your daily life, and change it forever. So do not miss them as you seek to study the deep things of the Lord.

Respect Your Pastor Enough to Talk with Him

The word of God is clear that the role and duties of elders in a local church is a tough role. Elders are charged by God with faithfully handling his word, with shepherding the flock, and with caring for souls. Pastors (elders are the same as pastors) are called to pray for the church, to correct the doctrine of those who stray, to call people back from sin, to comfort the hurting, and so very much more. And all of that is while regularly preaching and studying—and perhaps even writing on a regular basis in the modern world.

I would not give away my job for anything. I love the role to which God has called me, even though it can surely be hard. I love to teach the word of God and care for the people of God. And I pray that, by the grace of God, I might do this work well.

With the pastor’s job in mind, let me share with you an issue that pastors face that I think could be something all church members need to hear about. I have come across something that is necessary in the church, but which I think many Christians shrug off. If you need a prooftext verse for what I’m going to suggest, try this one from Hebrews:

Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

This verse of Scripture calls for church members to do their best to make shepherding them easy for pastors. This is by no means a verse that allows pastors to lord authority over people in the body. It is not the Bible saying that, if the pastor wants you to fund a new building, you whip out the checkbook without hesitation. It is simply a reminder that, because your pastors keep watch over your soul, you should help them do their jobs well, with as little pain as possible.

So, what do you do when your pastor holds to a doctrine with which you are struggling or with which you disagree? I would like to suggest, as a pastor and as a student of the Bible, that you have the respect for and love for your pastor to actually talk with him about your struggle. It is wise for church members who are trying to work out their beliefs, or who are even struggling with what the pastor teaches, to actually sit down with the pastor, hear his rationale for his argument, and see what can be done. It is possible that this discussion will sharpen or even change one or both of the people in the discussion.

I have seen a church member call up his pastor, ask for time, and then sit down to talk through a challenging and often-debated doctrinal issue. The young man came with his argument ready, but he also came with grace and humility. The conversation did not end with anyone’s mind totally changed, but the conversation certainly ended in fellowship, in love, and with both sides understanding each other better. This was good.

On the other hand, there are those in churches who disagree with their pastor doctrinally who simply make the decision that they will figure out the issue on their own without ever sitting down with their pastor to talk it through. As a pastor, let me simply say that this is a discouraging decision at the least. Pastors are surely not better than anyone else in the church. But pastors have, by the grace of God, often been given the privilege of years of study in which to wrestle through tough doctrines. To simply refuse to talk with your pastor about a doctrine may communicate to your pastor that his years of study mean nothing to you, and that you, in a few months on your own, will do a better job of figuring out a thorny theological problem. It can come across as a person saying that they will trust an author or a speaker from the Internet more than they will trust the wisdom of one who is in their own church.

The sad thing is, we will sometimes see that church members who do not talk doctrine through with a pastor may bring about division in the body because of their conclusions. They may leave the church. Or they may bring about a major conflict in the church. And often, these conflicts bring great sorrow to the body. All the while, had the person chosen to sit down with their leadership, the pastors the members said they would submit to, they could have avoided a great deal of the pain of the process.

Of course, I do not believe that every church member will agree with his or her pastor on every issue. In truth, I need to be challenged and corrected, and so do all other pastors. Which is why, for a church member to decide that nothing would change from a conversation is counterproductive in the body. Perhaps the pastor will learn something. Perhaps the church member who has his or her mind made up might actually find out that the pastor can lovingly present a truth to them that they had not yet understood. But to not give your pastor the opportunity for this, that is certainly not helping him to keep watch over your soul.

As always, thinking an issue like this through requires wisdom. I am not asking that one brings every petty preference issue to the pastor’s study for a four-hour discussion. There are surely doctrines that are of lesser importance, doctrines that will not demand division or policy changes in the church. Such doctrines do not always have to be addressed. But, then again, why not at least have a single conversation with your leaders about such issues if you are noticing them. No, do not become a thorn in your pastor’s side. But neither disrespect your leadership by assuming that they are wrong and they can say nothing that might influence you.

Also, we understand that not every person leaves a church over doctrine. People may desire to worship in a different setting or to serve a body they find fits them better. There are surely good and godly reasons to leave a church that do not require a doctrinal division.

Hebrews 13:17 commands us to help our shepherds shepherd our souls. Think along those lines as you think about tough doctrines you struggle with or doctrinal disagreements you have with your church. Perhaps thinking this way will help you to love your shepherds enough to talk with them about your struggles. Such conversations, if handled with love and grace, would glorify God and be good for all the souls involved.

What do you do, then, if you have a pastor who is not interested in doctrinal conversation? I have been in such a church in the past, and it was a really hard place to be. When you find out that your pastor is not interested in theology, or that he will not have a conversation about theology, then you may well need to consider another place to serve the Lord. But give the pastor the chance first. Respect him enough to speak with him. Make sure he knows what you are thinking and why you think it is important. Then, if you need to move on, if you have heard his thoughts on your doctrinal issue, you can go with a clear conscience, knowing that you have tried to be led by the shepherd the Lord placed over you.