I wonder if you have ever been around a group of Christians who say they are interested in doctrine but do not seem all that interested in making sacrifices for the cause of Christ throughout the world? Or who say they are serious about the study of Scriptures but do not seem all that interested in sacrificially loving their neighbor for the glory of God?
It can be a strange situation. When you talk about missions or mercy or service, they think you are losing interest in doctrine. Or they will speak as if they aren’t as interested in these things because they are more interested in doctrine. The exact opposite is true, or at least should be true. It is because of a love for doctrine that we are motivated for missions, mercy and service. The two are connected. In fact, when there is a lack of concern for these things the primary problem is doctrine or maybe more specifically the problem is that doctrine hasn’t truly turned into doxology because doxology results in a deep desire to spread the fame of Christ and to sacrifice for the glory of Christ.
I like how Michael Horton puts it:
“If deeds without creeds is possible, how about creeds without deeds? While it is certainly possible to have a church that is formally committed to Christian doctrine-even in the form of creeds, confessions, and catechisms, without exhibiting any interest in missions or the welfare even of those within their own body, I would argue that it is impossible to have a church that is actually committed to sound doctrine that lacks these corollary interests. With respect to individual Christians in their common vocations, the mercies of God in Christ propel a profound sense of obligation and stewardship. God has given us everything in Christ, by grace alone, so our only “reasonable service” is to love and serve our neighbors out of gratitude for that inexhaustible gift. In other words, there is no such thing as “dead orthodoxy.” I take this to be the point that we find in James’s letter. He does not say that faith without works is incomplete or insufficient for justification, but that a faith that does not bear the fruit of good works is dead–in other words, it isn’t really faith at all.
Within my own circles, I have seen a difference between churches composed mainly of those who have come either from non-Reformed or even non-Christian backgrounds and churches that have come gradually to take their doctrine for granted. The former tend to be animated by doctrine freshly discovered, while the other tends to assume, in a variation of the rich young ruler’s response, “All this I have believed since my youth.” Losing the joy-the doxology-of our salvation is the result not of “dull doctrine,” but of dull churches that have begun to forget the wonder of it all. They need to start over again with Paul’s famous letter: moving from doctrine to doxology, yielding grateful lives. I think if Paul wrote a letter to churches today that are only formally committed to orthodoxy, he would not begin, “Now, I realize that you know the truth, so I’m going to fast-forward to the exhortation.” I think he would begin the letter, as he did all of his letters, with the assumption that if people understand the gospel better-which is to say, doctrine better, they would get caught up in it all and it would make a difference in their lives, their relationships, their witness, and their loving service to their neighbor.”