A Case for Doctrinal Distinctives
Reformed churches, since the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, have been in grave danger of sacrificing their faith. The days of the Reformation were marked by severe persecution upon those who opposed Rome and all her idolatry. Rome never hesitated to make martyrs out of her enemies. Persecution for Reformed churches today takes on a slightly different form. Reformed churches are forced to compromise on their witness to the truth. Great pressure is heaped upon Reformed believers and clergies to be tolerant of false doctrine. Under the false piety of Christian love, Reformed churches are compelled to be accepting towards churches of differing doctrinal persuasions. Anyone who refuses would be labeled arrogant and unforgiving. Tolerance is the ecclesiastical password to be accepted in the modern church world.
Prof. Herman Hanko of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America writes,
“Sad to say, the church has always been plagued with these great compromisers. They are almost more dangerous than outright heretics, for they sell the truth under the guise of toleration, love for brethren, and desire to be known as peacemakers” (pg 169, Contending for the Faith, RFPA, 2010).
As if calling ourselves Reformed were already not being exclusive, many shun the idea of developing the church’s doctrine for fear of being given unfriendly labels. Church leaders hesitate to maintain distinctive doctrinal standards for fear of offending others. As a result, the doctrines and practices which give the Reformed faith its unique power and vitality are compromised. The Reformed church sacri ces the truth on the altar of tolerance.
God’s Word is clear for the Reformed believer to “buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding” (Prov 23:23). Wisdom, instruction and understanding are all products of his priceless purchase of the truth. The Reformed man uses all his talents and gifts God has given him to acquire as much of the truth as possible. Like the wise man who upon nding a pearl of great price, sells all that he has to purchase it (Matt 13:46). He learns it, studies it, confesses it, defends it and hides in his heart (Ps 119:11). Above all, he refuses to sell his purchase because it is God’s priceless gift to him.
What then are doctrinal distinctives?
They are the doctrines and practices which give the Reformed faith its rich meaning and uniqueness. They are the doctrines of sovereign, particular grace which proclaim a mighty and sovereign God in the salvation of sinners. They are the doctrines of God’s unconditional covenant which he sovereignly establishes with his elect in the cross of Jesus Christ. In sum, they are the deep truths of Scripture that have been passed down to us with the sweat and struggle of our spiritual fathers.
Consider the following 4 statements: 1. God saves sinners.
2. God saves sinners in the cross of Jesus Christ.
3. God saves His elect sinners in cross of Jesus Christ.
4. God saves His elect sinners in the cross of Jesus Christ by His grace alone.
Each statement is true from a biblical point of view. Yet each successive statement increases with detail and precision. Each statement increases in depth and meaning which stem from the rich fountain of Scripture. They give us a fuller understanding of the doctrine of salvation. Such is an example to develop the truth in sharper clarity and deeper meaning.
It would be extreme unfaithfulness on the part of a Reformed church to be satisfied with a shallow understanding of the truth. More than 400 years have passed since the days of the Reformation. The Reformed faith has since developed in great depth, clarity and beauty. Doctrines which were unheard of in the past have been forged in the res of controversies and intense spiritual struggles. It is nothing less than the duty of those who call themselves Reformed to carry on the legacy of doctrinal development.
To be doctrinally distinctive is not an easy course to take. On the one hand there are those in the church who have no genuine love for the truth. They are the Esaus of the covenant who, although, have been raised under the instruction of the church, despise all that they were taught. When the church develops the truth and confesses it with boldness and clarity, this wicked element are forced to reveal their true natures. On the other hand there are those outside the church who oppose her with an intense hatred. The bolder she confesses the truth of God, the more intense this hatred will be. Persecution is inevitable.
That many Reformed churches have been engulfed by a tolerant and liberal spirit is not surprising. Scripture speaks of those who “will not endure sound doctrine…[who] turn their ears away from the truth” (2 Tim 4:3-4). These churches have almost no interest in the development of the truth. Under the false notion of Christian unity, they join hands with all sorts of churches. Without any thought of the spiritual consequences, they freely allow exchanges of pulpit with each other. Ministers perform the sacraments for each other’s churches and discipline standards slip. Yet, they are not alarmed as unity is more important to them than the truth.
Prof. Hanko hits the nail squarely on the head with these words, “the salvation of the church lies in her intolerance – intolerance of all that is contrary to God’s truth in Christ” (pg 21). May we who have been so blessed to receive the Reformed truth learn this intolerance from our fathers of old. Our comfort comes from the Spirit of God who alone will lead the church into all truth (Jn 16:13). For the love of the truth, for the glory of God, the Reformed church must be doctrinally distinctive.
In the next article, the Lord willing, we will explore the reasons for maintaining doctrinal distinctives in the church of Jesus Christ.
Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 3