“Belief is No Good Without Practice” and Other Stupid Statements
from Parchment and Pen by C Michael Patton
It was in my expository preaching course that I learned it. It was driven into my teaching psyche and intended to become a part of my basic presupposed knowledge of ministry. Without it, all your preparation would be in vain. Lacking this, your message will fail to do what God actually intended it to do.
It is the message for a new generation. It is something emergers know and they know that they know it. It is what I hear on blogs, read in books, and a continued favorite among those who are despondently depressed and shamed when surrounded by “fundamentalists.” It is pridefully stated as if this epiphany is going to miraculously wake a sleeping Evangelical culture of John MacArthur and John Piper groupies.
What is it?
“Belief is no good without practice.” Wake up and smell the manna!
Sounds reasonable doesn’t it. Let’s put it another way.
“Belief is not the end, it is a means to an end. The end is doing not believing.”
In preaching, it goes like this:
“If you don’t have a way in which people can apply the lesson to their lives today, you have not really done anything.”
“Introduction. Body. Three points of application.”
A friend said it the other day. We visited a church led by a young seeker-friendly preacher. After the lesson he said, “Now I really liked that sermon.” “Why?,” I asked. “Because it has so much application,” he responded. “That is what I need—application.”
The idea here is that belief, in and of itself, is not the end game that God has for us. God primarily wants us to be active in our practice. Good works, being nicer to people, acting out our love, giving to the poor, self-sacrifice, not cheating on tax-returns, avoiding certain web-sites, bringing home flowers to your wife, forgiving your father, protecting the unborn, knowing when to set down the beer, taking your daughter out on a date, remembering to say “I love you” (don’t just suppose they know), and trading your Hummer for a Honda. These are all things I can do today. This is what we need. Right?
emergento moschos skubula
(Excuse the French). Nice translation: “What a load.”
I am not saying that application is not important or that it is not an essential end. What I am saying is that it is not the only or even primary end.
God cares more about belief than he does practice. Belief, truth, doctrine, theology, and, yes, being correct, is more important than all the good works one can ever practice.
The “why” is more important than the “what.”
The “how come” is more important than the “when.”
The “because” is more foundational than the “so that.”
In fact, I believe the “what?” “when?” and “so that?” have no meaning outside the “why?” I also believe the “what” can exist alone in many cases and serve to bring great glory to God.
What I am saying is that God is glorified in our right belief. God receives great pleasure in correct doctrine. It is God’s first desire that we believe correctly. Belief, truth, doctrine, and theology are not merely a means to an end, but are the end themselves. Yes, this “end” will, more often than not, have natural consequences that will produce certain effects (i.e. good works), but the substance is in the truth understood and believed.
Oh that Jeremiah could be resurrected and speak to this pragmatic generation who wants to set aside knowledge and understanding for minimally based practice. He may say what he said before:
Jeremiah 9:23-24 “Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD.
This is about boasting (something we are not supposed to do?). While we are not to boast about things that are of themselves empty, we are commanded to boast about something. Something that our generation is increasing preaching as being among the unboastable areas of life:
understanding. “Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me.”
I was in a small group venting about my expository preaching class ten years ago. I said, “They are trying to get me to pull out direct immediate application—something for the people to do—out of every sermon.” I complained about this. My group of young seminarians were divided. I told them that not only were some passages of Scripture not able to produce direct immediate application without sinful manipulation, but sometimes, I told them, “God simply wants us to believe what he said. This is application enough!”
We have downgraded belief, truth, doctrine, and “understanding” to a secondary level of importance. It has become the handmaiden of immediate application. We are losing our reason for boasting.
In reality, application is the handmaiden of truth. God wants us to know and understand him. Statements such as “Belief is no good without practice” fails to understand that belief is the foundation of practice and that belief—right belief—brings as much glory to God as anything.
Preaching right belief and understanding, unfortunately, has become the red taped taboo of our generation. Avoidance of such is justified in the name of baseless pragmatism. It is the Evangelical and Emerging misdirection that could alleviate the church of the only legitimate reason we have for boasting. I believe that it is the crisis of the church today.
Friends, if people believe correctly—and I mean truly believe—they will act correctly when the situation calls for it. Not only this, but their good works will be done for the right reasons, based on a motivation of truth. Knowing and understanding God will change lives by bringing people in a right orientation with the way things actually are.
I know that not everything can be understood. I know that God has not revealed himself to us fully. And I know that there is legitimate room for disagreement on many things. But this does not alleviate us of our search for God. Theology, truth, doctrine, understanding, and belief are foundational to all else. God rejoices in correct doctrine.
Lewis Sperry Chafer, the late founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, used to end each class with this statement, “Men, give them something to believe.” I end with the same.