The Front Pew

Those of you who occasionally drop in on this blog know that I have a passion for the accurate teaching of the Bible, as well as the accurate representation of God before the world.

You also know that I often promote the development of a personal passion to ‘know God.’  The real God.  Not the one we would like Him to be nor the one our culture tries to portray.   We can’t develop an image of God based on how He fits in with our lifestyle or our culture.  We shouldn’t develop an image of God based on our own definition of his attributes.  Instead, we must always be careful to develop an image of God based on who God told us He is in the Bible.  God alone defines himself for us.

That means that any serious Christian should try to understand accurate, historical Christian theology.  I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to do.  Sometimes we view theology as something higher than we can reach for — something for an elitist class of Christians — something that we will never understand — something that really isn’t important.  We justify not finding time to accomplish this task by telling ourselves, “It doesn’t matter.  I love God and that’s all I need to know.”  These things are simply not true.

I don’t think it has been easy for most generations to understand theology.  Nevertheless, theology matters.  It is important to understand how the faith was handed down through the generations, starting with the very creation of the world.  If you don’t understand how to view God through the entirety of scripture within context of scripture, you risk worshiping a false god.  That is a fate I would not wish on any child of God.

That’s why the creeds and confessions were developed during the Reformation.  To protect the integrity of scripture so that the people could know the real God of the Universe.  So often today, we embrace the theology of something like we sing in the old hymn, “My faith has found a resting place, not in device or creed. I trust the ever living One,His wounds for me shall plead.  I need no other argument, I need no other plea, It is enough that Jesus died, And that He died for me..”  I used to love that hymn until I realized that it promotes a shallow faith.  A shallow faith serves neither man nor God.

The creeds, confessions, and catechisms of the historic Christian faith should be appreciated and respected  – not as scripture – but as a protection from the distortion of our faith.  The catechisms make it easy for us to memorize doctrine so that we can give an answer to every man for the hope that is in us.  I Peter 3:15…..but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. If you do not study scripture deeply, how can you make a reasonable and honest defense?

By studying the history of the church and the development of theological thought over the centuries, we understand the struggle of those who have gone before us to protect our faith.  We realize that we have the faith of those who have gone before us to comfort us.  We learn to respect the sacrifices they made on our behalf?  Have we ever had to face matyrdom to protect the faith?  Would we care enough about our faith to know it so well that we would be willing to die for it — as our forefathers did so often?

It saddens me that I don’t see a deep hunger and thirst to know God in the general evangelical American church population.  I don’t want to overgeneralize, but I so often see an indifference in Christians when it comes to ‘knowing’ God deeply.  I often hear comments like the one I mentioned above, “I don’t need to know Jesus — all I have to do is to love Him.”

Yet, Jesus said:  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.John 4:22-24

Jesus asks us not only to worship Him in spirit….but in truth.  Thus, I must ask the question, How can you love someone you do not know?  How can you know ‘truth’ if you do not study the one defined by truth?

Sometimes people who live within this field of view (the ‘all I need to do is love Jesus’ view) take opportunities to be critical and condemning of those who do love to learn about God — those who love theology — those who crave the deep things of our Father — those who make the time to study.  I don’t think this is done in a mean-spirited way.  I believe it is done mainly to erase the guilt of their own conscience.

I didn’t even realize there was a label for this until this week.  Probably because my head is always buried in a theology book…and the Bible.  A very sweet Christian friend of mine referenced this kind of Christian as the “front pew” person.  She was responding to my comments about such topics as Osteen, The Secret, The Shack, The Purpose Driven Life, etc.  I shared a wonderfully deep discussion on the topic by John MacCarthur.

It is certainly true that the average pew sitter does not have the intellect of most theologians but they still have the capability to learn many of the deep things of God.  Just because it’s not easy to do does not mean we should not do it.  I can say this from the deepest place in my heart  –studying theology should a requirement that springs out of a heart of desire to know God like a front pew person.

Why?  Because if you don’t take the time to learn about who God really is, you may injure others in your evangelical zeal to spread the news about Him.  What news are you spreading?  Are you spreading the gospel?  Can you even accurately tell someone what the gospel is?  Who would honestly believe someone who said, “You don’t need to know anything about Him, you just have to love Him?”

Secondly, if you don’t know God, then you don’t know how God wants us to worship Him.  Are you living under the illusion that we get to choose how to worship God?  If your answer remains that ‘I love God and that’s all I need’ then you have some studying to do.  Some praying to do.

If God did not tolerate the kind of worship that Nadab and Abihu offered, what makes one think that he will accept our own personal preferences in worship or in the definition of His very being?  R.C. Sproul asks, “Nadab and Abihu brought strange fire before the Lord, and for that, God struck them dead.  Why did God deal with them so harshly?”  Ponder this question today.  You can hear Sproul’s audio broadcast on this topic here. Sinclair Ferguson has a really nice talk on this subject here. Ferguson’s talk is very much worth listening to if you desire to understand how God desires to be worshiped.  God, please continue to give us deep teachers such as R. C. Sproul, Sinclair Ferguson, Derek Thomas, J.I. Packer, Michael Horton, John MacCarthur, Alistair Begg, Iain Murray, Charles Tedrick and so, so many others who faithfully proclaim the deep, accurate word of God.   We need them immensely to minister to the ailing, ignorant body of Christ.

Bottom line?  Though I don’t sit on the front pew, I sit pretty darn close to that front row.  I don’t want to be distracted by the rustling of papers and nodding heads.  I want stay focused when the Word of God is being taught — to learn more about the God I serve and worship.  I don’t do this to become puffed up, as 1 Corinthians 8 cautions us against.  I do this because the Bible exhorts me to grow and mature in my faith.  (1 Cor. 14:30, Phil. 3:15, Col. 4:12, Heb. 5:14 and other passages.)  I want to be faithful to my Father.

Paul always says it best:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.  Colossians: 1:24-29

Beloved friends, get to know your Savior deeply.  Crave to understand the theology behind your faith.  The more you know you know Him, the more you will love Him.  It’s impossible not to love Him when you know Him so well.

Image by Francisco Sgroi (Creative Commons License)

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