The Importance of Theology
by Pastor Earl M. Blackburn,
Trinity Reformed Baptist Church, La Mirada, California
[From an article on the Trinity Baptist Church website www.reformedbaptist.net, used by permission.]
The visible church is central to all of God’s redemptive purposes. As Paul the apostle says in Ephesians 3:21, "unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen"
This verse is a doxology and a most revealing verse regarding Paul’s Christian life and ministry. His entire Christian life and ministry revolved around visible churches. He did not dream of thinking of Christ without thinking of the church. He understood that Christ came to build the church (Matthew 16:18). He knew that Christ purchased the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28) and that He loved the church and gave Himself for it (Ephesians 5:25). The Apostle knew that Christ constantly nurtures and cherishes the church (Ephesians 5:29) and that He ever lives to intercede for the church (Hebrews 7:25). Paul comprehended, along with John the beloved apostle, that Jesus is in the midst of His churches (Revelation 1:11-1 3a & 20) and that He continually interacts with them (Revelation 2:6,9,16, & 24; 3:2,8,&18-19).
Saving religion and the Christian life, as defined in the New Testament Scriptures, demands the visible church. The ministry of the gospel and the Word of God, as found in the church, produce saving faith. The church’s preaching of the "whole counsel of God" produces gospel holiness, sanctification, and growth in grace. As Dr. Wayne Mack says, "Attempting to grow in Christ outside the church is like trying to swim without ever getting into the pool." The church and its God-ordained leaders serve as a bulwark to guard believers from going astray and into apostasy. Godly pastors and elders are there as counsellors and friends when believers enter hard times and difficulties. Being a member of a church will give Christians the love and service of fellow members. Brothers and sisters in Christ will be there to weep when you weep, rejoice when you rejoice, and walk side-by-side with you in your Christian life. Paul knew to think lightly of the church is to think lightly of Christ. How contrary to the thinking of many Christians today. In Ephesians 3:21 Paul teaches six important facts about the church.
1) In all its doings, the church is to be God-centred ("unto Him").
2,) It is purpose-centred ("be glory"). In other words, the church’s main purpose is that it exists for God’s glory. The glory of God is central to Himself and it is central to the church’s existence. Everything God does is ultimately for His own glory, and everything the church does should be for God’s glory.
3) The church is organization-centred ("in the church"). In other words, the church is a visible, structured body with a recognizable membership.
4) The church is to be Christ-centred ("by Christ Jesus"). Christ is the full and final manifestation of God. Therefore, the church is to feature every aspect of His person and it is to focus on every aspect of His work.
5) The church is to be generation-centered ("throughout all ages," which is literally, from the Greek, "through all generations"). The church is to minister and declare God’s truth to each succeeding generation. The church must not yield to the present generation and be manipulated by its whims and fancies. Each generation must yield to the truth of God as proclaimed by the church. The generations change, but God’s truth does not! Beware of the person who says truth changes.
6) It is eternity-centred ("world without end" literally "from the age to the ages"). God has put eternity into the hearts of His people and the church lives out its life with eternity’s values in view.
Out of the six facts about the church, perhaps the most important is that of being God-centred, which is theology-centred. What is theology? It is that which is thought, said, and believed concerning God, given in human terms by the Holy Bible itself as the divine revelation of God. Dr. Millard J. Erickson defines systematic theology as "That discipline which attempts to arrange the doctrinal content of Scripture in a coherent fashion, express it in a contemporary form, and relate it to issues of practical Christian concern.” (Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology, p.163)
Theology is paramount to the church. As A.W. Tozer astutely states, "We being what we are and all things else being what they are, the most important and profitable study anyone of us can engage in is without question the study of theology." Is this true? Just how important is theology to a local, visible church? Without theology the church would cease being the church. The church is not just a social entity like the Lion’s Club or the Rotary Club. It is a body of baptized believers in Christ Jesus the Lord gathered around a system of beliefs. If theology is removed, the church becomes just another social organization sharing a commonality with all the others in the world. Instead, the church is unique in that it is theology-centred, and that is what makes it the church.
Without theology the church would have no stability. It would not be able to weather the storms of its existence or the fair sunshine times of blessing. Churches sometimes go through difficult periods, and when they do so they often waver. Other times churches go through seasons of great blessings and it becomes difficult to keep the right focus. Theology helps to maintain stability.
Furthermore, without theology the church would have no sense of spiritual direction. It would be like a traveller without a map, a ship without charts and compass, a journey without a destination. What is a church to do when confronted with certain issues? Respond to them? Know the way ahead? Correct theology gives a church a true sense of direction.
Yet, we are living in a day where there is not only a neglect of theology, but a disdain for it. Dr. Robert Godfrey, a noted church historian, correctly observes " many evangelicals have developed a bias against theology and theological systems. They do not want theology; they want ‘the simple gospel.’ They believe that systems are artificial and are forced on the Bible. The Bible is their only creed. But they themselves end up with a system that is implicit, unexamined, and sometimes ruthlessly imposed on Scripture." (quoted in ‘Christ the Lord’ p.120). You often hear modern Christians say, "Don’t gimme doctrine and theology, just gimme Jesus."
At the turn of the 20th century, every university had a department of theology, and theology was called "the Queen of Sciences." A person was not considered thoroughly educated if he had not studied theology. Today, universities have thrown overboard departments of theology and in their place erected departments of religion. The difference appears subtle and slight, but it is devastating.
To illustrate my point, let me give you an incident that occurred in the life of a prominent Christian leader of our day- Dr. R.C. Sproul. He was invited to speak at a prestigious Midwestern university. Before the lecture, he was shown around the campus by the Dean. Upon entering the faculty office building, he noticed one office door that read "Department of Religion." That evening as he spoke to the faculty, he addressed the matter: "I reminded the faculty that there is a profound difference between the study of theology and the study of religion. Historically the study of religion has been subsumed under headings of anthropology, sociology, or even psychology. The academic investigation of religion has sought to be grounded in a scientific-empirical method. The reason for this is quite simple. Human activity is part of the phenomenal world. It is activity that is visible, subject to empirical analysis."
"To state it more simply, the study of religion is chiefly the study of a certain kind of human behaviour, be it under the rubric of anthropology, sociology, or psychology. The study of theology, on the other hand, is the study of God. Religion is anthropocentric; theology is theocentric. The difference between religion and theology is ultimately the difference between God and man- hardly a small difference. Again, it is a difference of subject matter. The subject matter of theology proper is God; the subject matter of religion is man." (Grace Unknown, p. l0 & 11)
Every teaching about God in the Holy Scriptures is doctrine and theology. Every belief about God is the same. (The same is also true about Christ.) Theology speaks about the existence and being of God. Theology speaks of God’s attributes and qualities. (Can you name ten attributes of God, besides Him being loving?) Theology speaks of His great, powerful, and glorious works: creation, providence, redemption, preservation, and consummation.
The church exists "unto Him" (God-centred; i.e. theology-centred). It is not to be people-centred first, as in "The Church That Loves People," but God-centred, as in "The Church That Loves God."
Theology is important to this church because it is important to God. Dr. Robert Reymond asserts "Every Christian will be either God-centred or man-centred." Which are you? Therefore, do not think it strange when you hear theology as the Word of God is proclaimed from this pulpit. If a church is to be biblical, it must be theology-centred. Join us as we mine the depths and riches of theology that are found in God’s inerrant Word. See Romans 11:33-36. As one noted pastor often says, "Ultimately, all things are disciplined by theology.” Amen
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