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Growing a Church without Doctrine

John Piper's Assesment


As a Bible student, it is clear to me that in order for a church to be successful, it must be built on doctrine. In my earlier years as a believer, the word doctrine had a negative connotation. Dogma and doctrine were argumentative and divisive words. So we avoided them more than often.

This is not an uncommon thing today. Doctrine takes back seat to entertainment and felt needs. Since I have become a more outspoken teacher among my church and friends, I have made it my mission to push doctrine in every way.

This task can be very difficult at times. Those who disagree may have bad arguments but great results (at least for the time being). They really do not have much Scripture to stand on so they lean on the end results. Their numbers are greater. Their giving is greater. Their music is greater. Their volunteerism is greater. Quantitatively they are growing. And that is hard to argue against in this postmodern world – especially when the Bible does not explicitly argue it for you.

However, I have lived long enough to see the waves of postmodernism. So I know that what works now will not always work. The church may be growing quantitatively because of our choice to hide doctrine, but it will fall dramatically when the real troubles come. And then these postmodern people will think of something new, again.

And so the cycle of empty-headed Christians forming empty-hearted churches will keep going until we wise up. So my effort (like so many other Bible students and teachers) is to push for doctrine, and to push with force. Doctrine is practical and necessary. While it is not explicitly plain in Scripture, it is implied in Scripture on almost every page – especially in the New Testament as the church was forming.

However, in my experience, it is difficult to explain without some degree of time. In other words, I find it tough to convince other postmodernized people that doctrine grows churches, not entertainment, unless I have ample time to build a case. But I’ll keep pushing. I’ll keep praying.

To help this effort, I’ll push the words of those who are doing the same. In John Piper’s argument for the doctrine of imputation, Counted Righteous in Christ, he dedicates his first chapter to explaining why we (the church) should dedicate so much time and energy to doctrine. He has a section in this chapter called “Growing a Church without Doctrine” that I would like to close with:

To begin with, the older I get, the less impressed I am with flashy successes and enthusiasms that are not truth-based. Everybody knows that with the right personality, the right music, the right location, and the right schedule you can grow a church without anybody really knowing what doctrinal commitments sustain it, if any. Church-planting specialists generally downplay biblical doctrine in the core values of what makes a church “successful.” The long-term effect of this ethos is a weakening of the church that is concealed as long as the crowds are large, the band is loud, the tragedies are few, and the persecution is still at the level of preferences.

But more and more of this doctrinally-diluted brew of music, drama, life-tips, and marketing seems out of touch with real life in this world – not to mention the next. It tastes like watered-down gruel, not a nourishing meal. It simply isn’t serious enough. It’s too playful and chatty and casual. Its joy just doesn’t feel deep enough or heartbroken or well-rooted. The injustice and persecution and suffering and hellish realities in the world today are so many and so large and so close that I can’t help but think that, deep inside, people are longing for something weighty and massive and rooted and stable and eternal. So it seems to me that the trifling with silly little sketches and breezy welcome-to-the-den styles on Sunday morning are just out of touch with what matters in life.

Of course, it works. Sort of. Because, in the name of felt needs, it resonates with people’s impulse to run from what is most serious and weighty and what makes them most human and what might open the depths of God to their souls. The design is noble. Stilliness is a stepping-stone to substance. But it’s an odd path. And evidence is not ample that many are willing to move beyond fun and simplicity. So the price of minimizing truth-based joy and maximizing atmosphere-based comfort is high. More and more, it seems to me, the end might be in view. I doubt that a religious ethos with such a feel of entertainment can really survive as Christian for too many more decades. Crises reveal the cracks.

Posted by Jacob Abshire on March 26th, 2008 - 7:11 pm
Categories: Confessions
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