Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Doctrinal Integrity, Dignity, and Soundness II
11/05/2005 - James White
Titus 2:7-8 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.Just as we noted when we looked at 1 Cor. 1:17 a number of weeks ago, we can, by the means we use to proclaim the gospel, alter it and in fact empty the cross of its power, making it void. If we use worldly words of wisdom--human methodologies that prove we really do not trust God's Spirit to make God's message come alive in the hearts of His people--we may see "results" but they will not be abiding results to the glory of God. They will be man-made, and the resultant church anything but divinely blessed. An impure Gospel results in impure saints at best, or pure hypocrites at worst. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about sinless perfection or the concept of certain hyper-Calvinists that a person has to have memorized Berkhof's Systematic Theology before regeneration can take place. I'm talking about integrity in doctrine---putting the emphasis in the right place. Today the emphasis is upon the "end result" and being "user friendly." The fact that men of God are called to be His ambassadors and to proclaim His message without diminishment or alteration has been lost to a large portion of those who stand behind pulpits today.
A teacher with integrity will teach "the whole truth and nothing but the truth" to the best of his ability. The integrity of the truth will be a high priority---far higher than "the possibility of offense." Today the greatest heresy in many churches is hurting someone's "feelings." The teacher who has integrity will not seek to unnecessarily offend, of course. But when offense is part and parcel of the message, the teacher marked by integrity will leave the matter in God's hands.
The next term Paul uses is semno,thta, "seriousness, proper conduct, respectability, dignity, probity, holiness," "a manner or mode of behavior that indicates one is above what is ordinary and therefore worthy of special respect," "behavior which is befitting, implying a measure of dignity leading to respect - 'propriety, befitting behavior.' " Once again the modern trend is seen to be directly opposed to the biblical standard. Today the "minister" who is intent upon making himself "just one of the boys" or a "clown for Jesus" will gain an audience. How far from the attitude of the ambassador who, invested with the authority of the one who sent him to deliver a message, treats that proclamation with the dignity due to its author, resulting in the hearers likewise treating the message with dignity and respect. How little respect is shown the proclamation of God's message today! Congregations tell their pastors to keep it to twenty minutes---we want more music, more entertainment! Give us "gospel lite." Keep it simple! Nothing heavy! We want to feel good when we leave! No doctrine! No content! Stories, tell us childhood stories! Many sleep through the sermon with their eyes open, never considering the gravity of the message (if there is any gravity in the message to begin with), day dreaming about getting home to watch football, or worrying about what will happen Monday at work. We live in a generation of sound-biters---if you don't get the message across in four minutes and thirty seconds, you've lost me. Better throw a joke in to wake me up now. I can't concentrate on one thing this long! Of course, that's why I only read a few verses of the Bible a week, why the biblical text is a choppy mess of individual verses instead of a contiguous whole, etc. and etc.
Teaching marked by dignity recognizes first and foremost the dignity of the one who gave the message; then the message's intrinsic worth due to its origin and nature; and finally, the dignity of the one called and commissioned by Christ's Church to deliver that message to others. Is it any wonder the sense of the dignity of the teaching has been lost on so many? If you do not consider God to be holy and worthy of honor and fear and respect---if you do not believe His Word a divine gift of grace, His very speaking (but instead view it as the musings of men)---you will have no basis upon which to view the teaching of Christian truth as something with authority and dignity. This is what gives rise to the audacious demand on the part of most evangelicals today that the proclamation and content be tailored to meet "their needs"! As if the Holy Sovereign of the Universe is limited in the message He can deliver to His creatures by what His creatures feel they "want" to hear!
What is the minister to do who is called to labor in the midst of those who do not honor the dignity of the message or the messenger? To borrow a phrase from Steve Camp, you need to remember you have an audience of One. When you preach, you should preach full well knowing you stand in the sight of the Sovereign of Heaven who gave you the Word you are handling, and who expects fidelity to His truth and accuracy in its exposition. Do others sense your awe at His presence? So what? You preach for His pleasure and His glory, and you leave the others to His hand and His will. He may well be pleased to grow some folks up based upon your model, honoring His Word, and edifying His people. It is not your job to work for the Lowest Common Denominator form of Christianity. Call the people to a higher place. Model for them the sobriety due to the worship of God. Ask them to learn to worship in dignity and to honor the ministry of the Word.
On a personal note, this was one of the first things that drew me to the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church. I was a member of a large Southern Baptist Church. In comparison with the situation today, that SBC back then was wildly conservative and respectful in its worship and in the centrality of preaching (I have only been back once briefly, and things had changed a lot, and not for the better). But still, the idea of quiet worship, preparation, etc., was not there. The time before the service was for talking and chatting and talking about...anything while trying to find the best seats. But the first night I walked into PRBC, things were different. It was small, plain. Downright Puritanical (still is, though we have left the pretty plastic flowers from the McKee wedding about four years ago for a very small splash of color). And it was...quiet. I mean, folks were there, but they were...reading Scripture or in an attitude of prayer. I was immediately struck and put into a completely different frame of mind. When the elders came in (Don Fry and Dave Crawford---a dear brother who has since gone to be with the Lord), you could not help but be focused upon what was going on since...there were no distractions! The hymns were solid, sound in theology and content. And...not only did they sing every single verse (as I've said, there is nothing lonelier than the third stanza of a four stanza hymn in a Baptist Church), but they sang the amen, too! How liturgical! And rather than having announcements and special music numbers and all sorts of other things, we heard the Scriptures read, sang a few hymns, worshipped God in giving, and went directly to the sermon, which was from a verse-by-verse exposition of...Amos! You could have knocked me over with a feather. The proclamation was serious, focused---dignified, befitting the message and the author of that message. It sure made an impression upon me back then. [continued]