Theology, if it is True is Lived.

We probably deserve the bad rap. At least segments of the Reformed church have contributed to the false correlation that Reformed theology/doctrine leads to stifled mission. In some contexts, the church has given itself only to the articulating of the truth within its doors and has neglected the flow of truth that leads to a love for the surrounding world. We have been more concerned with being right than showing God’s grace to those around us.

This is not the way it has always been. Any survey of the missionary activity of the church shows a very different picture. One cannot consider the history of the mission of the church without considering the major influence of Reformed and Confessional Christians and churches. We would have to overlook great missionaries like William Carey, David Brainerd, and John Paton. We would have to misunderstand the mission focused ministry of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and Spurgeon. Church history is full of Reformed, Confessional Christians who gave their lives for the spreading of the mission of Christ.

What has happened to divorce doctrine from mission and truth from love? The example of New Testament Christianity upholds the importance of doctrine connected to mission and truth accompanied with love.

At the beginning of the New Testament Church, in one of the last letters of the Apostle Paul, Paul wrote his “philosophy of ministry” for his young son in the faith, Timothy. He wrote to Timothy, “The aim (goal/telos) of our charge (our ministry) is love that issues from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5). Here is Paul’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell: truth leads to transformation which leads to love for God and others.

Here are a few lessons for us from Paul’s philosophy of ministry:

Mission flows from truth-transformed hearts.

Love for God is displayed in a desire for his name to be known and glorified in all the earth. Love for his glory will lead to a desire that others will worship him. As our hearts and the hearts of those we are ministering to are changed toward the proper telos of love, then we will be led forward in mission for the exaltation of the God we love.

Love for others is displayed in our desire for them to have what is most essential to life. We long for them to know the “Fountain of every blessing” and the “God of all grace.” This is mission—that they may know God.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ alone leads to a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Knowing that Christ’s blood cleanses us of our “dirty sins” and that Christ’s obedience enables us to walk before him and others in honesty and transparency, we are free to love God and others. These heart transformations will always result in love for God and others.

A proper “Confessional Christianity” will lead to a focused mission.

To be confessional means to be committed to the truth of Scripture. It is described as taking doctrine seriously. “Doctrine is,” as Carl Trueman writes, “not simply a description of religious psychology—but rather a description of who God is and how he has acted.” And again, Trueman writes, “Confessional Christians . . . are not simply committed to doctrine; they are committed to a particular way of life within the context of the church.”[1]

Confessional Christians are committed to understanding and applying the truth of God to the life of the Christian. This commitment is more than just head knowledge. True “Confessional Christianity” will be a commitment that the truth of God leads to a love for Him and others.

Recognizing that Christianity didn’t begin “last Tuesday,”[2] the Confessions tie our truth commitments to the previous generations of the church who modeled missional living. Many of our “Confessional” predecessors exemplified the self-sacrificial mission of Christ.

The value of this for our mission is that the Confessions have come down from generation to generation, and they will continue into the future. The truth contained in the Confessions will last beyond our temporary influence. Our mission can and will last longer than our short time of ministry. Praise be to our God.

Richard Lints sums up this important connection of truth with love when he writes, “Theology, if it is true, is lived. . . It is lived in the life of the church, those whom God has called out from a rebellious world. Moreover, it is lived in the midst of the world, not in isolation from it.”[3]

May God help us to have a growing grasp of the truth that leads to the transformation of our hearts and a resultant mission of love—for God and the world around us!

As John Calvin wrote,

“God certainly desires nothing more than for those who are perishing and rushing toward death to return to the way of safety. This is why the gospel is today proclaimed throughout the world, for God wished to testify to all the ages that he is greatly inclined to pity.”[4]

[1] Chad Van Dix Hoorn, Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2014), ix.

[2] This is Van DixHoorn’s phrase pointing to the value of Confessions being tied to the history of the church.

[3] Richard LInts, The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1993), 61.

[4] John Calvin, Calvin: Commentaries (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), vol. 23, The Library of Christian Classics, eds. Baillie, McNeill, and Van Dusen, 402.

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