It is true that there is much in Christian theology that is mysterious and difficult to define. And since the current age of post-modernism emphasizes this fact systematic approaches to church ministry are not especially popular at this time. This problem extends, it seems, to every aspect of church life and ministry. It is especially a problem for large churches that developed during a more modern period of time — when structure was king, so to speak. It is also a problem for denominations as they seek to define their identity and purpose. Now that the lines are a little more fuzzy, at least in the minds of post-moderns, structure is often a little more difficult to achieve.
I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot in the context of theology. It used to be the case that theology was fairly clear at least within denominational camps. It still is so to a large extent, but these days the lines between denominational perspectives aren’t nearly as clear as they used to be. So any particular church may have a broad range of denominational representations within its constituency. It’s often the case, in fact, that denominational identities are ridiculed in favour of a greater expression of spiritual unity. This latter interest is all well and good, but is it possible in this process that theological truth is being sacrificed on the altar of some kind of short-sighted utilitarian pragmatism? Will we find ourselves within a decade or two completely buried in a theological syncretism that is devoid of the kind of biblical truth that is necessary for true faith and eternal salvation?
My observations of biblical revelation lead me to conclude that though there is much about God and His way that is mysterious the whole point of biblical revelation is to give us an understanding about God in a way that enables us to have confidence concerning faith. Saving faith is not merely a spiritual experience in a religious context (even a Christian religious context); it is a confessed agreement with God as presented to us in Holy Scripture concerning the things that are true (or conform to reality) regarding personal moral accountability to God, concerning the divine identity of Jesus, and concerning His substitutionary sacrifice for personal sin. The Holy Spirit comes to reside in the lives of those who acknowledge their need for Jesus’ sacrifice and receive His freely offered gift of forgiveness and all that comes with it. This recognition of faith may come about in many different ways, but it is difficult to see how there can be any confidence regarding assurance without one’s heart response to this truth.
This systematic approach to the assurance of personal salvation then, it seems to me, also extends to ways in which discipleship is demonstrated and taught within the church. Though being a disciple may be something observed and even participated in, ultimately it most assuredly consists in the truths of God’s revelation that one embraces and applies. It is much more than cognitive recognition, but it surely involves that. Jesus said, If you continue in my truth, then you really are my disciples (John 8:32).
And this systematic approach, it seems to me, also applies to how the church is organized. The latter should include, in my opinion, clear lines of structure so that everyone is able to use their spiritual gifts in the best possible way. The pastor and Board of Elders have been biblically charged with the responsibility of guiding the church in line with God’s will as revealed in Scripture. This makes it possible for relationships of accountability within the church to be clearly described. A major part of what it means to be a pastor, I believe, is to work with the elders of the church in establishing biblical structure, theologically and practically, so that God’s work can be effectively accomplished as He has ordained.