By now, you’ve probably heard about the skirmish between two heavyweights from the Christian pastorate. John Piper vs. Rob Bell. A disagreement over a doctrinal issue. It’s created a very public controversy. In case you aren’t familiar with the situation, here’s a summary:
• Rob Bell, Founding Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, has written a new book titled Love Wins. The promotional materials—a video clip and the publisher’s summary—could lead one to believe that Rob is teaching a doctrine called universalism. Simply put—everyone goes to heaven.
• John Piper, Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Bible Church, makes a concise yet direct statement through Twitter about what he knows of Bell’s latest work. The tweet said simply, “Farewell Rob Bell.”
• CNN and other popular media outlets ran with the “story” and made the controversy even larger.
• A wave of tweets and Facebook posts ensued. In amazing numbers!
• Many Christians took sides. Either (1) Bell has moved away from orthodoxy, or (2) Piper is mean and judgmental.
I’m not going to write about who’s right or who’s wrong. I’m not going to attempt to sway you to a particular side. What I am going to do is connect with the reality of why such a thing happens within the Christian community.
Two words: Doctrine matters!
Doctrinal Christian beliefs are orthodox for a reason—faithful Christ-followers and brilliant scholars from generation to generation have studied the Word of God and found them to be true. They’ve withstood multiple tests throughout many turbulent years of church history. And they remain.
Consider the words of the Apostle Paul when addressing the issues surrounding church leadership (Overseer/Elder) in Titus 1.
“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Titus 1:9
When publicity for Bell’s Love Wins suggested that he might be taking a position that stood outside of orthodoxy—Piper refuted. He didn’t waste time. He didn’t mince words. He was direct and to the point. Period.
Was Piper’s response hasty? Perhaps. Was it harsh? Possibly. Was it necessary? That’s what we must wrestle with and consider…
Doctrines are derived from systematic study of the Scriptures. They are not opinions. They do not fluctuate due to a cultural trend or a political agenda. They hold firm. This is precisely why religious trends have never destroyed what God is building—His Church.
As followers of Christ, under submission to the Word of God, we have a responsibility to hold true to the long-standing doctrines of our faith. Moreover, we have a commitment to the teachings of our Savior.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
Jesus gave us this exhortation. To teach new believers everything that He commanded. And He taught us to obey these things. In order to obey, we must know what Jesus taught. Pretty straightforward stuff! Clearly, Jesus is suggesting that doctrine and obedience cannot be divorced. This is true in a small group, a mid-sized community/Sunday school class, or a congregation. To live out our faith in practical tangible ways, we must know what Jesus taught. It shouldn’t be ignored, dismissed, softened, or patronized.
So read it. Study it. Discuss it. Live it. Because doctrine matters!