This year’s Moderator of the Church of Scotland wrote an article worthy of his Kirk titled, “Doctrine Getting in the Way of Faith.”
In the world of “respectful dialogues” that I have called for during my year as moderator I would encourage women and men across the Church to engage in serious conversations with those whose connection to the Church, and with it their connection to the faith, has simply ebbed away. Ask what would reignite their interest in belonging to the community of faith. Do not assert that their belonging depends on their ability to tick certain boxes of belief, but ask what would make it possible for them to break into the circle of your church. Then invite your minister and kirk session to make space for respectful dialogue with the spiritual refugees of several generations.
Don’t insist on belief before belonging – faith comes with belonging. I know that in my own life experience the most assured connection with Christ is in the context of being part of the community which is his body.
This may all sound good, but there is no Biblical basis for his statement. If the Moderator’s “most assured connection with Christ” is not rooted solely in a belief in the truths of Scripture, then he has no sure foundation and nothing to offer anyone that will give them anything more than a few good feelings.
We’ll go through some of this and see what the Bible says. Contra the Moderator, the Scripture doesn’t tell us faith comes with belonging, it comes by a work of the Spirit through the hearing of the Word of God:
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
Romans 10:14, 17
14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
According to Scripture, people belong to the church when they receive the truth and are saved, and belief is necessary to salvation:
41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Doctrine is not contrasted with faith, it is essential. If you don’t have the doctrine of Christ, you don’t have God:
II John 1:9
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.
You cannot truly belong to a true church without belief in true doctrine. Either you are a fraud, pretending to believe and to belong, or the church is a fraud, pretending to be a church while telling you that failure to believe the truth doesn’t matter.
Unfortunately, Mr Chalmers article tells all we need to know about him and the “church” he leads. Articles from Kirk leaders rarely cite much, if any Scripture — when they do, they misuse it. The Kirk is simply not founded on the Scriptures anymore. It has become a mere social club with a veneer of faux morality (defined by opinion, not Scripture) and God-talk. Its religiosity attempts to cover, but never really hides, the cracks and the decay, the politics and power-grabbing and pursuit of human approval. Its foolish attempts at societal relevance render it spiritually irrelevant, and thus its societal relevance is also collapsing. Its form of godliness has for years been accompanied by a denial of the power of true godliness, just as Paul described in II Timothy 3:5.
The Bible certainly encourages us to welcome unbelievers who choose to come to the meetings of the church. But it does not tell us to consider them part of the church or act as if belief is an “extra” that is less than a requirement to being a true member of a true church. Anyone who teaches that doctrine gets in the way of faith is, at best, horribly confused and shouldn’t be teaching, and at worst, a liar. II John, cited above, could not be more clear.
Instead of presenting this confused, boring, old-fashioned liberal ‘church without belief in God’ message, as though it were something new, the Moderator would do better to return to the faith of his forefathers and start proclaiming the Good News of Christ as given in his Word. ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved’ is the message that Scotland needs to hear. Not “come and get a nice warm fuzzy ‘spiritual’ feeling with us”. For that they would be better going to the pub/club/football stadium or atheist church! The Christian faith is much more radical and life changing.
(Interestingly, his entire article sounds almost like a Baptist refuting infant baptism. How does a minister who follows the Westminster Confession oppose bringing people who don’t believe into the church? That’s what infant baptism does, if we believe the Westminster Confession, which the Free Church affirms as their statement of belief. But perhaps further discussion of that is best left for another day. 🙂 For now, I appreciated his article, which hit the nail on the head regarding the bankrupt philosophy behind Mr Chalmers’ comments.)