The Importance of Sound Theology

Monday, March 12, 2018

I belonged to six Presbyterian churches as I grew up, but I had only one minister. And Daddy was a strong Christian whose sermons were firmly grounded in the Bible.

When I went to college, I visited several churches and ended up attending Third Reformed (in Holland, Michigan). Like the churches from my childhood, Third’s teaching was rooted in solid theology.

So when I moved to Chicago for graduate school, I expected to find more of the same. Unfortunately, not all churches and ministers are alike, even within the same denomination.

I visited two or three churches in Chicago looking for a place to belong. It was probably my second time at Fourth Presbyterian Church when I heard an announcement that they were still looking for Sunday School teachers. Although I hadn’t heard the senior minister preach yet, it was a Presbyterian church, so how could I go wrong? That’s what I thought at the time, anyway.

I’m not sure how long it was before I began having doubts. I remember taking an evening class from the senior minister and disagreeing with his Biblical analysis. The incident that stands out most was the day he said sins were always black and white, never gray. So I asked about 1 Corinthians 8, which talks about food offered to idols. According to Paul (as I read the passage), mature Christians who understand that the meat is just meat don’t sin when they eat it privately or with other equally mature Christians, but those who think that eating food offered to idols is a sin actually sin when they do so. I was willing to be persuaded that I had misinterpreted either the passage or the senior minister’s words. But he gave me a brusque “it doesn’t mean that” and moved on without explaining why not. If it was simply a matter of not liking his personality, however, I would have swallowed my pride and lived with it. But I had also heard several of his sermons by then, and they always made me uneasy.

The turning point came on Easter Sunday, when I sat through his entire sermon and didn’t hear him mention Jesus once. The next week I began visiting other churches and found one that was rooted in solid theology, although I didn’t join until I had attended long enough to be sure of that. Then I got married and joined my current church, which is also Biblically grounded.

Fast forward 45 years.

I went to a writers’ conference in Chicago over the weekend. I couldn’t attend services at my own church without missing some of the sessions. The conference was just down the block from Fourth Presbyterian, however, and its 8:00 a.m. service worked with the conference schedule. So although I had some trepidation, I went. The sermon was short on doctrine, but at least it included references to Jesus. The liturgy had a bigger impact, and it was uplifting. Fourth Presbyterian may still not be a church I want to belong to, but it sufficed for that one visit.

This isn’t a denominational issue. I’ve been to other Presbyterian churches in the last 45 years—either on vacation or while visiting family—and come away feeling satisfied. And every denomination has its renegades. In the end, it comes down to the individual churches and their pastors and whether they espouse solid Biblical teaching.

I believe in working from within when there are political or personal differences in a congregation. But if the teaching found there doesn’t feed my faith, I need to find a church that does.

I’m just glad I learned that lesson 45 years ago.

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