It seems as though, largely speaking, that American Christians fall broadly into a couple of main categories: those that emphasize doctrine or those that emphasize action. There is, of course, that large group of churches that water down just about everything in order to grow numerically. In fact, there is a very large church in my area in which leaders readily admit that you won’t hear public teaching above a seventh-grade level. They call it their USA Today approach. But those churches are not my point today.
One of the main reasons we hear at Church of the Cross, where I pastor, for Christians leaving our church family is that we don’t have enough “bible study.” These people often go to churches with a lot of classes and that heavily emphasize doctrine. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love to study the Bible, I love to study doctrine and doctrine is fundamental to our faith. If you don’t believe in the Trinity, you’re not a Christian. There are clear boundaries to Christianity and we need to know those boundaries but I’m not convinced that “studying the bible” is the main thing the church should be doing. In fact, our right doctrine should move us to action.
Jesus very clearly says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Jesus commands that His people make disciples, “teaching them to obey” all that He commanded (Matthew 28:18-20) and James says: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
Scripture is very clear that right thinking (doctrine) changes our heart (affections) and that this results in action. We are not yet doing it all that well, but I am not interested in pastoring a church of people who want to learn more that they won’t do. If our churches are not putting faith in to action, all the doctrine we study is simply puffing us up (1 Corinthians 8:1).
This is an uncomfortable thing to consider. Lots of people will loudly proclaim, “Yes, but our actions don’t save us! Salvation by grace though faith alone! (Ephesians 2). Fair enough, but I’m not saying that our actions produce faith. I’m saying that our faith should produce actions that ask us to sacrifice and become “good news” to our surrounding culture. James says that if we simply hear the Word without doing it, we are deceived (James 1:22) and that if our faith doesn’t result in works, then it’s not real faith (James 2).
Jesus is not going to be impressed if you can parse your Greek and Hebrew and if you’ve worked out the definitive ordo salutis and if you’ve worked out Infra- vs. Supralapsarianism. Most Christians in America already know enough Scripture that we don’t live. Jesus says that whatever we do for “the least of these” we do for Him (Matthew 25:40).
I’m still not sure what this looks like in Suburban NW Phoenix, but I do know that the church should serve those in need and that, the more we learn, the more we should live. So, at Church of the Cross, we’re not interested in studying the Bible just to study but to become equipped to live on mission. We want to put it in to practice. We want to live it. The question shouldn’t be whether a church emphasizes doctrine or action but whether or not the truth about Jesus is moving people to action. We are really struggling with this as a church family but I am incredibly humbled that there are others who want to see faith put in to action.