Churches that wish to be doctrinally thorough and promote theological literacy ought to have a pulpit that systematically teaches through Scripture, and support it with other means of increasing theological knowledge and depth. This post considers a third and fourth way of achieving this.
A conservative Christian church should engage in the systematic discipleship of believers. Of course, the previous two suggestions form part of this discipleship. However, teaching Christian disciples all things that He commanded us (Mt 28:20) entails more than sermons and classes. It calls for the mentoring relationships of teacher and pupil, master and apprentice, father and son. Paul’s description of himself as both a father and a mother to the Thessalonians seems to suggest this (1 Thes 2:7-11). Discipleship involves one Christian seeking the spiritual growth of another. This involves intercession (2 Thes 1:11-12), personal involvement, setting an example (1 Tim 4:12), and verbally instructing. Beyond this, a kind of loving supervision needs to occur, consisting of correction (Gal 6:1), encouragement (Heb 3:13) and counseling. Creating this habit of ‘apprenticing’ other believers in the midst of very individualistic cultures can be difficult. Pastors need to teach on these kinds of discipling relationships. Instructional materials can be written or purchased that may assist one believer teach another. Providing opportunities for believers to be together outside of corporate worship can be helpful for increasing these bonds, and allowing younger believers to observe older believers in other settings. Creating a culture of older believers caring for younger believers takes a long time, and needs to be continually urged against the spiritual entropy that causes us to think only of our own spiritual progress.
Systematic discipleship allows churches to ground believers in the ‘grammar’ of Christianity, slowly building from the fundamentals all the way up to a detailed systematic theology. Catechism is not a bad word. All Christians should ultimately be involved in catechizing other believers, as part of the Great Commission.
A conservative Christian church should encourage fellowship with other Christians where it exists. Contrary to the laughable intuitions of some, Religious Affections Ministries is not a covert apologetic for dispensational independent fundamental Baptists, trying to win back disaffected emigrants from such. The writers on this blog are grateful for genuine Christianity wherever we find it, and the more consistent and robust, the better. Conservative Christianity is truly catholic, for it seeks to conserve what is essentially Christian. Conservative Christianity is not the province of a particular group, denomination or movement. A Wesleyan can be a conservative Christian. A Reformed Baptist can be a conservative Christian. Conservative Christianity embraces Arminians like Tozer and Wesley, and Calvinists like Machen and Edwards. It sees value in Augustine and Novatian, in Fenelon and Guyon, in von Zinzendorf and Warfield. Individual conservatives may disagree with them on points, but it is because of their consistency that we know exactly where those points were. We know how much fellowship we can have with their systems of faith.
Of course, some doctrinal deviations have greater implications for the gospel than others. Some differences cause a greater breach in possible collaboration. Fellowship must be taken where it exists. Pastors can encourage this kind of genuine catholicity by pointing to the great strengths of Christian teachers and ministries past and present that differ from one’s own perspective. It can involve varying degrees of targeted collaboration with other Christians, ranging from the lowest levels of informal fellowship, through things like shared pulpits, all the way up to collaborated ministry efforts like joint church planting. Pointing out where fellowship exists, and where it doesn’t, not only helps believers appreciate the whole body of Christ, it increases their theological literacy. They come to learn how to weigh doctrinal differences. They come to appreciate the spectrum of theology, and how varying doctrinal differences affect Christian life and ministry.
Conservative Christianity wishes to conserve the whole counsel of God. Churches that wish to conserve Christianity must resist the tides of doctrinal minimalism, and seek to consistently teach the whole Christian faith.