Be Theologically Vigilant Pastors and Churches
This blog post is part three of a five-part series entitled “Four Areas of Growth for Sovereign Grace Churches.
In his farewell speech to the Ephesian elders, Paul exhorts his friends to remain alert and protect their church from false doctrine, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert…” (Acts 20:29-31a, ESV). This exhortation to be alert for any false teaching is not just for pastors, but for all believers. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul exhorts the members of the church at Colossae saying, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). Knowing that we all have the responsibility to identify and guard against false doctrine, another area of growth I’m holding out for Sovereign Grace Churches is that we would “be theologically vigilant pastors and churches.”
Obviously, this call to be theologically vigilant is centuries old. But we do live in a day that increasingly casts aside the absolute truth found in God’s Word. Therefore, the fight for sound doctrine in our time is fierce and requires our constant vigilance. The dismissal of God’s Word and its authority in our lives, the erosion of biblical sexual ethics (e.g. gender identity, same-sex marriage, etc.), the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide are just some examples of how our world is rapidly changing. And these aren’t simply social issues or cultural shifts, but primarily doctrinal issues where we must “be theologically vigilant.” To allow our world to remain unchallenged regarding its dismissal of God’s truth implies great spiritual, moral and social losses regardless of where you live. And to allow our churches to be influenced by these false doctrines implies a weakening of our churches. So, what do we do to “be theologically vigilant?”
Continually Read, Study, and Apply Scripture
All sound doctrine springs from Scripture and is measured by Scripture. The most important thing you can do to be theologically vigilant is to regularly read, memorize, study, and apply God’s Word. Purpose to be a person who is growing in your grasp of the doctrine of Scripture. I would highly recommend that you read “Taking God At His Word” by Kevin DeYoung as one means to deepen your grasp of this important doctrine. Additionally, purpose to process all that you see in our shifting culture in light of God’s Word.
Consistently Listen to and Apply the Sermons Preached in Your Local Church
The internet age has brought many good blessings. We have access to sermons and preachers from around the world. While they hold potential to strengthen your soul, they should never replace the faithful week to week preaching that you hear in your local church. The pastors in Sovereign Grace are committed to sound doctrine. They spend hours studying and preparing their sermons as one expression of their commitment to teaching sound doctrine. The pastors in your local church will give an account to God for how they are keeping watch over your souls (Hebrews 13:17), not the preachers you hear online. And make sure that you measure the sermons you do hear online in light of God’s Word as a means of remaining theologically vigilant. John Newton, in a sermon entitled, “Of A Living and A Dead Faith,” exhorted his church this way:
“As doctrine is of so great and essential importance beware of how you listen to any other. Take heed how you hear; be not influenced by names, characters or the stations of men. Prize the liberty, which you as Protestants and Briton’s enjoy, of bringing every doctrine to the trial of God’s Word, and freely use it. I account it my honor and happiness that I preach to a free people who have the Bible in their hands. I charge you to receive nothing on my word, any farther than I prove it from the Word of God; and bring every preacher, and every sermon you hear to the same standard.”
Read Theologically Sound Books
Beyond the rich treasures found in God’s Word, there are good books that will help you know, understand, and grasp sound doctrine. Don’t be afraid to read a challenging book because it will not only inform you; it will thrill your soul. C.S. Lewis says:
“I tend to find the doctrinal books are often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that nothing happens when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”
As one means to serve your pastors and your church, the Sovereign Grace Leadership Team has compiled a list of theological challenges we are currently facing in our world. This list includes recommended resources that can be read to help you remain theologically vigilant. Ask your pastor for what books they would recommend you read on any given topic.
Sovereign Grace, let us be a family of churches that is theologically vigilant. And as God gives us grace to do so, here is what I see: Sovereign Grace Churches, built upon the solid foundation of God’s Word, that are immovable as we remain faithful to preach, study and apply the truth without fear, offering hope and help in a confused world.
Mark Prater is the Executive Director for Sovereign Grace and serves as an elder at Covenant Fellowship Church. He and his wife, Jill, have three married daughters and a growing number of grandchildren.
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