Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Danger of Discounting Doctrine.

This week I am preaching from Jesus' letter to the church at Pergamum in Revelation 2:12-17. There are a number of things we can learn from this letter and on Sunday I will unpack one particular dynamic in our culture that I think is deeply problematic: the expectation of tolerance.

But another emphasis a preacher could focus on is doctrine, a sometimes maligned topic in our day. Why should we emphasize doctrine in an age in which it’s disdained? Why do we hold tightly to our beliefs in a day in which everyone believes what they want? In Revelation 2:11–17, the Lord’s message to the church at Pergamum, deals with the danger of doctrinal compromise. This church was indifferent to subtle influences that corrupted its teachers and endangered the spiritual life of its membership. We are in danger in similar ways today. Consider a 2001 study by George Barna (admittedly now dated and probably much worse...
Almost half of born again Christians (45%) agree that Satan is “not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” (2001)
About one-third of born again Christians (34%) believe that if a person is good enough they can earn a place in heaven. (2001) 
Fifteen percent of born again Christians claim that “after He was crucified and died, Jesus Christ did not return to life physically.” (2000)
About one out of four (26%) born again Christians believe that it doesn’t matter what faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons; a belief held by 56% of non-Christians. (2000)
Yikes! No wonder the Apostle Paul wrote, "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine"—2 Timothy 4:3. Some of great Christian thinkers and theologians of the past century have known better when it comes to doctrine...
"The chief need of the present age is great theology." —Dr. Loraine Boettner
"Great saints have always been dogmatic." —A. W. Tozer
"There can be no spiritual health without doctrinal knowledge." —J. I. Packer
"We cannot have the benefits of Christianity if we shed its doctrines."—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says that doctrines are like maps. They are not the reality and may not be as exciting as reality, but they chart reality for us in a vital way. Just as studying a map of the shore of the Atlantic is not as exciting as walking along the Atlantic coast itself, so studying the doctrine of Atonement is not exactly the same as the experiencing the Cross itself. But the purpose of a map is to represent, graph, and explain the reality. If you want to find your way, you need to have a reliable map and consult it frequently.

Let's look at the text and notice five things:

1. The Designation of Christ (Revelation 2:12) The church in Pergamum was established early since it is one of the seven churches addressed by Christ. Antipas was martyred there, the first Christian put to death by the Roman state. Revelation 2 mentions Pergamum as the place “where Satan’s throne is,” probably referring to the temples in which the Roman emperors worshiped. This city was located in Mysia, an ancient province of Asia, in the Caicus valley. The city had a great library and four beautiful temples representing the gods Zeus, Dionysus, Athena, and Asklepios. In addressing this letter, Christ describes Himself as having a two-edged sword. The sword, a symbol of judgment, denotes the Lord’s vengeance on the guilty world. To those who refuse to own His absolute authority, the sword must do its sure work in the execution of judgment.

2. The Discernment of Christ (Revelation 2:13) Jesus declares that He knows their works. Jesus knows where they live. He commends them for holding fast His name and their refusal to deny their faith in spite of the martyrdom of Antipas. Christ knows our temptations and takes into consideration our circumstances. The church is commended for holding fast His name in spite of its circumstances. They were not ashamed of their relationship to Christ.

3. The Denunciation of Christ (Revelation 2:14-15) This church, however, tolerated the Nicolaitan sect and those who held the doctrine of Balaam. Although the Savior could approve their general course, He could not approve their toleration of these who held to a pernicious error that sapped the very foundation of morals. The church was indifferent to subtle inward influence that corrupted its teachers and endangered the spiritual life of its congregation. It was a church with devotion and yet lax in dealing with doctrinal error. The false teachers taught the same doctrine as Balaam and, therefore, deserved to be classed with him. The doctrine of Balaam permitted heathen religious rituals, which led to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans that sanctioned immoral practices. The essence of Balaamism is worldliness. It is a grave mistake for the church to make a union with the world. Satan seeks to nullify the power of the church by mixing Christianity with worldliness. Some churches today are seducing their members away from Christ by providing worldly amusements unworthy of Christ. The church must preach and practice sound doctrine. Doctrinal distortion, dilution, and defection lead to disaster.

4. The Directive of Christ (Revelation 2:16) Christ issued a sharp command to repent. Unless the church repents, judgment will be swift and decisive. In spite of their faithfulness, the evil character of those things that were tolerated in the church was so serious to the mind of Christ that He would judge the church with the sword of His mouth. The impending judgment, unless they repented, was designed for their edification and salvation. The church was condemned for its laxity. While all in the church did not practice the deeds or adhere to the deeds condemned by Christ, the church tolerated them in the assembly. The pastor of this church had not practiced or imbibed the reprobate deeds, but neither had he denounced them nor opposed their entrance into the church.

5. The Disclosure of Christ (Revelation 2:17) Christ admonished the church to hear, heed, hold, and honor the Spirit’s words. He assured the church that overcomers would be given hidden manna to eat and a white stone with a new name written on it which no man would know without receiving it.

Doctrinal defection is a real danger for the church today. Every church must maintain doctrinal purity. The message to the church at Pergamum is valid for the church today. Diligence, discernment, and discipline are necessary to maintain doctrinal purity, for we are commanded to contend earnestly for the faith that has been once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3)