Are We Saved by Believing in Right Doctrine?

I received a question from a reader of my previous post, “Only Saving Faith Promotes Saving Faith and Obedience.”

Question: “I would like to humbly request for further clarification with regards to the idea that “only right doctrine promotes saving faith”. “Does the statement imply that those who don’t have right doctrine are not saved.” The reason I ask is because this is the argument raised by church X that salvation is based on doctrine rather than on a belief in the person of Christ…However my concern is more for those who have a simple child-like faith and who are ignorant either because they happen to be unknowingly stuck in a church that deprives them of sound doctrine or because they happen to be uneducated. Do these people have saving faith without “right doctrine”?

Answer:

Many church leaders have the impression that doctrine entails argument over abstract propositions that distracts Christians from focusing on more important spiritual exercises which build faith and relationships. To correct this false impression I pointed out MLJ’s insistence that doctrine is practical and that “there is an inseparable link between doctrine, spiritual experience and Christian obedience.” I was hoping that MLJ would add weight to my post which was written in a “rah-rah” spirit to get church leaders excited about doctrine.

I am aware of the possibility that the title of the post could be misread. Hence, your question, “Does the statement imply that those who don’t have right doctrine are not saved” does not come as a surprise to me. May I suggest that we read the title for what it affirms positively, “Right doctrine promotes saving faith” without implying the negative possibility, “No right doctrine means no saving faith”?

Some clarifications is in order:

First, while it is our duty to defend right doctrine, nevertheless, we should refrain from drawing definitive conclusions about someone’s salvation simply because of doctrinal difference. That is to say, our focus should be on critiquing wrong doctrine and not on judging people. Ultimately, to judge whether someone is saved or not is the business of God alone. We should humbly leave this matter to the holy God who is not only a God of truth and justice, but who is also a God of mercy. Continue reading “Are We Saved by Believing in Right Doctrine?”

Only Right Doctrine Promotes Saving Faith and Obedience

Nowadays, doctrine is not much mentioned in churches. Words like “creeds” and “catechism” are foreign to the vocabulary of church leaders. In the absence of doctrinal teaching, it is not surprising that most Christians no longer understand what they are supposed to believe. Unfortunately, nature abhors vacuum – the consequence is not just doctrinal indifference, but doctrinal perversion. Liberal theology which was vanquished and banished from the Malaysian churches in the early 1980s now finds a ready audience among younger Christians who are not properly taught the faith of their forefathers. It is indeed what the Apostle Paul foresaw when he wrote, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2Timothy 4:3)

Rather than giving an exhaustive list of new heresy that will one day become new orthodoxy in the Malaysian church, I shall just share the so-called “Apostate’s Creed’. Continue reading “Only Right Doctrine Promotes Saving Faith and Obedience”

Evangelical Essentials: Correcting Ill-Informed Muslim Activists and Fitnah Against Christians

Many social critics have ridiculed Azril Mohd Amin, CEO of CENTHRA for his ignorance when he called for Evangelicalism to be outlawed in Malaysia [Outlaw Evangelicalism in Malaysia, says Islamic Coalition]. Some even questioned whether Azril is intellectually competent to address the issue when he confuses and conflates such elementary terms like “Evangelism” and “Evangelicalism”.

“Evangelism” refers simply to the sharing of good news that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19) In contrast, “Evangelicalism” refers to the trans-denominational global movement which emphasizes the divine inspiration of the Bible with its central message of Christ work of atonement on the cross, and the necessity of experience of conversion.

In any case, the ignorance displayed by Azril is easily remedied by giving a concise history of Evangelicalism which includes many distinguished thinkers and social reformers. Continue reading “Evangelical Essentials: Correcting Ill-Informed Muslim Activists and Fitnah Against Christians”

No Succession of Apostolic Office in the Bible – The Claim of New Apostles is Unbiblical

A careful study of the Bible would confirm that while there may be succession of apostolic doctrine and apostolic ministry, nevertheless, there is no succession of apostolic office for the Church. Lest some people accuse me of prejudice against the so-called New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), I quote from the excellent position paper given by The General Council of the Assemblies of God (USA), “Apostles and Prophets”:

It is also clear that while the apostles (with the elders) were established leaders in the Early Church, there was no provision for their replacement or continuation…It is instructive, however, that nowhere in the New Testament after the replacement of Judas is any attention given to a so-called apostolic succession…It seems strange that apostles of Jesus Christ, concerned about faithful preservation of their message (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2), would provide for the appointment of overseers/elders while ignoring their own succession if such were indeed to be maintained.

In fact, there are certain exegetical hints the apostles of Jesus Christ are not to have successors. In 1 Corinthians 15:8, Paul listed all the Resurrection and post-Resurrection appearances of Christ and noted “last of all he appeared to me.” While some disagree, the statement is most commonly understood to mean Paul looked upon himself as the last apostle to whom Christ appeared.11 If this is the correct understanding, only the Twelve whom Jesus personally called and those He commissioned in His post-Resurrection appearances made up His original apostles…It is difficult to escape the conclusion of Dietrich Müller: “One thing is certain. The N[ew] T[estament] never betrays any understanding of the apostolate as an institutionalized church office, capable of being passed on…

Since the New Testament does not provide guidance for the appointment of future apostles, such contemporary offices are not essential to the health and growth of the church, nor its apostolic nature

Continue reading “No Succession of Apostolic Office in the Bible – The Claim of New Apostles is Unbiblical”

Distinguishing “Revival” from “Revivalism”; Discerning True from False Prophets

Of late, the Malaysian Church seems to have gained the favor of global trotting ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’ who fly in preaching about revivals and supernatural encounter, and promising material prosperity to the faithful. What are we to make of these ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’?

Tim Keller’s article on “Kingdom-Centred Prayer” offers a good starting point on how to evaluate these visiting ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’. According to Keller, a spiritual revival, or renewal, “is a work of God in which the church is beautifed and empowered because the normal operations of the Holy Spirit are intensifed. The normal operations of the Spirit include conviction of sin (John 16:8), enjoyment and assurance of grace and of the Father’s love (Rom. 8:15–16), access to the presence of God (John 14:21–23; 2 Cor. 3:17–18), and creation of deep community and loving relationships (Eph. 4:3–13).”

Keller suggests three marks of  genuine revival: Continue reading “Distinguishing “Revival” from “Revivalism”; Discerning True from False Prophets”

Experiencing God’s Sovereignty: A Meditation on Jeremiah 18:1-10

God Is Sovereign over Our Ministry
I have always felt strangely attracted to Jeremiah. The other prophets may share visions of God’s transcending majesty and deliver awe-inspiring oracles of God (Ezekiel and Isaiah) or triumph over hostile persecutors (Daniel), but they seldom disclose their inner selves. Not so with Jeremiah; he laid bare the emotional conflicts of a man who was chosen to bear the Word of God to a stubborn and rebellious generation even though he was personally least inclined to do so.

Jeremiah’s prophetic mission was characterised by immense sufferings. He was physically abused, locked in the stocks and even left to die in a cistern. He experienced the pain of total ostracism as his kinsfolk whom he loved dearly plotted against his very life. He was denied friendship and the joy of marital companionship. Seldom was the price of prophetic mission extracted so severely as from this sensitive soul. Continue reading “Experiencing God’s Sovereignty: A Meditation on Jeremiah 18:1-10”

The Pursuit of God: Simplicity and Surrender

My unassisted heart is barren clay,
That of its native self can nothing feed:
Of good and pious works Thou art the seed,
That quickens only where Thou sayest it may:
Unless Thou show to us Thine own true way No man can find it:
Father! Thou must lead.
[Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564). Translated by William Wordsworth]

I. Seeking God: Psalm 42:1-2*
These days, it is popular for Christians to attend seminars that feature foreign speakers who share their expertise in innovative worship and prophetic ministry that promise to kindle higher spiritual experience. However, eager and hungry souls who hanker after such promises may be disappointed, after having tried all these spiritual innovations to find that God remains an inference, a temporary trip rather than an ever present reality. It is no wonder the quest for that spiritual fads and fashions remains a phenomenon among churches today.

Other Christians may confess to a sense of spiritual jadedness resulting from a style of worship characterized by wooden routines of dead tradition that suffocate the longing soul (‘ritual murder’). Perhaps a better way is found in contemporary worship offered by big modern churches that are epitomes of visionary leadership, congregational enthusiasm and certainly organizational sophistication. Surely God is pleased with the impeccably organized programs and the awe-inspiring music that fosters energetic and enthusiastic worship? Continue reading “The Pursuit of God: Simplicity and Surrender”

Holiness and the Social Witness of the Church

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

It is encouraging that many Christians are actively engaging social-political issues to build a better society. Their coordinated and concerted efforts have gained them publicity and respectability; indeed, they may have won new ‘friends’ in the high places of political power. On the other hand, the elements of ungodliness, be they militant gays, permissive postmodernists or cynical atheists resolutely resist and reject any effort to infuse Christian values into society at large. Some religious extremists even threaten the safety and well-being of churches. These forces seem determined to plunge society headlong to self-destruction.

It remains an open question, then, as to whether the Christians will succeed in arresting the disintegration of society. It will be easy for Christian social engagement to wane when the unbelievers persist in hardening their hearts. Christian activism must be backed by Christian holiness if the recent gains are to be lasting. We must heed J.C. Ryle’s warning in his classic book, Holiness* that “Sound Protestant and Evangelical doctrine is useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life. It is more than useless: it does positive harm. It is despised by keen-sighted and shrewd men of the world, as an unreal and hollow thing, and brings religion into contempt” (p. xxi). Or in J.I. Packer’s words, “Credible opposition to secular ideologies can be shown by speaking and writing but credible oppositions to holiness can only be shown by holy living.”/Keep in Step with the Spirit (Revel Pub 1984), pp. 102-103./  Perhaps this is what Heb. 12:14 means: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Continue reading “Holiness and the Social Witness of the Church”

Cheers for the Maligned Goat

I have a confession: I used to look down at the piddling goat. It is too weak to pull a plough or give milk in abundance like the cow. It cannot serve as a beast of burden like the lowly donkey, the transporter par excellence for farmers and armies up till World War II. It is too small to give people a ride, much less match the magnificent horse bearing a conquering king. It is more than useless. It is a nuisance as it eats up anything, including the vegetables in the garden or even the lovely flowers left behind for our dearly departed at the cemetery.

No wonder many Chinese couples avoid having babies in the Year of the Goat. However, these couples may change their minds after watching National Geographic documentaries. They will be filled with admiration for the amazing feat (pun intended) of the surefooted and plucky goats frisking with abandon at the narrow edges of vertical cliffs.

And if only they could hear the heart beat or heart bleat of the goat. Continue reading “Cheers for the Maligned Goat”

Christian Worship in Times of Crisis: Escapism or Engagement with the World?

Related Posts: Worship of God and Ways of Man and I Find it Hard to Worship God in Church

 

Without doubt Christians in Malaysia are filled with a sense of foreboding as Islamic authorities seized the Alkitab, the Courts through unreasonable judgments effective curtailed their freedom of religion and the Prime Minister failed to censure aggressive Islamic NGOs for their slander and threats against the Malaysian Church.

It is heartening to see many Christians turning to the Lord in times of social crisis, seen in their fervent prayers in revival meetings. Crisis however brings up the best or the worst from us. Christian worship and revival meetings can become either an avenue of psychological escapism or a platform for spiritual renewal and social engagement.

Escapist Worship
Middle class Christians may be tempted to compensate their sense of social impotence by turning to other-worldly spirituality. Hence, a surreal emphasis on spiritual power in some revival meetings and a tendency to rally around men of charisma or self-styled apostles and prophets, if only that anxious believers may have a ‘touch’ of omnipotence mediated to them. Unfortunately, such focus on ‘touching’ spiritual power can distract believers from building genuine relationships based on shared lives to ensure the members of the community of faith will stand in solidarity with one another in the face of hostilities.

Spirituality then becomes a form of social-psychological pathology as distressed Christians seek consolation in the pie in the sky, resulting in personal resignation, passivity and indifference towards social engagement. Some find solace in cloistered personal piety; others delight in claiming victories in the heavenlies; and still others yearn for abundant material blessings – all without requirements of mutual accountability within the community of faith. Pre-occupation with revival meetings provides convenient excuses to the Church as it retreats from its holistic mission of witness and responsible engagement with an unbelieving, if not hostile world.

These observations are not meant to disparage current revival meetings but to challenge Malaysian Christians to recover the full dimensions of holistic worship adequate for strengthening personal spiritual formation and building community relationships and forging shared vision for social engagement. Given the present crisis I shall focus on holistic worship and social engagement with an unbelieving world. Continue reading “Christian Worship in Times of Crisis: Escapism or Engagement with the World?”