Does Good Doctrine Need Police?

How to Defend the Truth in Love

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Pastor, Austin, Texas

The Young, Restless, and Reformed movement is now more than a decade old. By God’s grace, much good has come from it: articles, books, conferences, podcasts, but most importantly, a new generation of Christians with a big view of God and a radical heart for the nations.

But not all has been good. Sadly, as I read social media, I hear those “discernment” bloggers’ and tweeters’ bitter tones of criticism against “those other Reformed” folks who are simply not faithful enough, not biblical enough, not “Reformed” enough. This “faithful, truly Reformed remnant,” as they see themselves, serves as the Reformed orthodoxy police, reviewing sermons, articles, and books, trolling social media to expose any hint of “unorthodox” theology and practice.

At least they don’t discriminate. They have no problem going after young or old, black or white, Asian or Hispanic, Baptist or Presbyterian. Their goals: the purity of the church, the centrality of the gospel, and right church practices — all good things. Yet there is one big problem. Somewhere along the road of doctrinal purity, they abandoned love. We’ve been here before.

Nothing New

As Jesus reminds us in Revelation 2:1–7, loveless orthodoxy is not new. But before taking shots at the orthodox police, let’s learn from their critiques. They may be missing the bullseye, but let’s at least ask if they’re hitting the target — even if only on the outer rings. If we learn the history of the church in Ephesus, we will see the real danger in abandoning orthodoxy.

We know a lot about the church in Ephesus. In Acts 20, Paul called the elders of this church to Miletus where he warned that false teachers would arise from among themselves to devour the church. Therefore, they were to protect God’s flock in Ephesus. By the time Paul wrote 1 Timothy, it appears that Paul’s concern was realized. False teachers were influencing the church to the point where Paul had to urge Timothy to remain in Ephesus and address it (1 Timothy 1:3–4).

Although Paul lays out the qualifications for elders (1 Timothy 3:1–7) and warns Timothy not to recognize men too quickly as elders (1 Timothy 5:21–25), the problem of false teaching persisted. So, Paul wrote 2 Timothy, urging his son in the faith to preach the word, not be ashamed, and endure suffering, while also entrusting this gospel stewardship to other faithful men, who would, in turn, teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).

By the end of the first century (when I take Revelation to have been written), it appears that false teaching had been driven out of the church in Ephesus. The Ephesian Christians were enduring patiently, not putting up with false teachers, and testing those who claimed to be apostles but were not (Revelation 2:2). But there is one big problem. They had abandoned love (Revelation 2:4).

Judgment Begins in the Church

You’d think Jesus would be pleased. After all, like Jesus, they too hated “the works of the Nicolaitans” (Revelation 2:6). And yet, in their pursuit of orthodox theology and practice, they became unloving (Revelation 2:4). This is a danger we all face — all of us who see ourselves as the orthodox police, sniffing out all those who don’t dot every doctrinal “i” and cross every doctrinal “t” as we would. For some reason, we struggle with the biblical tension of speaking the truth in love. Why are we continually tempted to pit truth and love against one another?

It’s true that we live in a culture in which orthodoxy is always under fire. So, we must always be on the alert, on guard. But it’s not enough to believe the right things and do the right things; in all we do and say, we must also reflect the love of our Lord for us (1 John 4:9–12). Francis Schaeffer was right: “love is the mark of a Christian” (John 13:35; 17:20–21; 1 John 4:7–8).

The danger of loveless orthodoxy is so serious that Jesus threatens to remove their “lampstand,” unless they repent (Revelation 2:5). In Revelation 1:20, Jesus explains that the seven lampstands symbolize the seven churches. Consequently, if the Ephesian church continues in its lovelessness, they will forfeit their very witness as a church. Ironic, isn’t it? Orthodoxy is not enough. Thankfully, Jesus does not merely point out our faults; he also shows us the way back to love.

Short Road Back

It’s not hard to abandon love, but in his mercy, Jesus shows us that the road back to love is right before us (Revelation 2:5). First, remember how you used to love. Do you remember how you loved God when you first came to Christ? Do you remember how vibrant your love for Jesus and his word was? Do you remember how fresh your love for the church was? It’s good to remember that first love and give thanks.

But it’s not enough to just remember. Jesus also calls us to repent — literally, to change our thinking. If we’re to be orthodox and loving, we must replace old ways of thinking with new, gospel-informed ways of thinking — about truth and love. If, after reading this far, the Spirit has exposed lovelessness in your own heart, repent. By faith, turn away from your lovelessness and rehearse the gospel, embracing Jesus’s sacrificial love for you.

Our Blessed Hope

After remembering and renewing our minds, we are ready for action. So, Jesus says, “do the works” of love that you did at first (Revelation 2:5). Oh, that we would be marked by such love, even as we may disagree with one another.

Because loveless orthodoxy comes so easily to us, we must continually fix our eyes on Jesus, the one who walks among us, even when we fail to love (Revelation 2:1). Let’s hear what the Spirit is telling us, for all who remember and repent and return to their first love will walk with God in paradise (Revelation 2:7).