Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles exploring the Baptist Faith & Message with the aim of showing the relevance of each doctrine for global missions.
Say the words doctrine and theology, and the responses you’ll get will vary. Some people love doctrine, and they’ll spend hours talking about historic church councils and “isms.” Others are neutral—they’re not opposed to theology and doctrine, but neither do the subjects light their fire. Still others don’t like the topics at all. “Doctrine is divisive,” they say, “and sometimes it’s just boring.” Regardless of how we feel about theology, though, reasons abound for tying it to missions.
The Great Commission Is Theological
First, the Great Commission is wrapped in theology. Think about the many theological issues, in fact, in Matthew’s account of the commission (Matt. 28:18–20):
- the very nature of the written Word that calls us to engage in the Great Commission,
- the authority of Jesus,
- a biblical understanding of making disciples,
- the responsibility of believers,
- the trinitarian nature of God,
- the doctrine of baptism,
- our call to obedience, and
- the ongoing presence of Jesus in our lives.
You simply can’t talk about the Great Commission without dealing with theology. Even if you don’t realize you’re doing it, it’s imperative that you’re theologically on target when you teach and proclaim our Great Commission marching orders.
Theology Drives What We Do
Second, we do what we do because of what we believe. We tell our neighbors and the nations about Jesus and salvation because we believe all people are lost without a personal relationship with him. We point them particularly to Jesus because we believe that he who died in our place is the only way to God. We participate in the Great Commission with urgency because we believe that hell is real, judgment awaits, and Jesus is coming back.
“What we believe—that is, our doctrine—compels us to make disciples of our neighbors and the nations.”
Whether you’re a pastor, a missionary, or a layperson, you obey God because of who you believe he is and because you believe he has made himself known to us through his inspired Word. Again, what we believe—that is, our doctrine—compels us to make disciples of our neighbors and the nations.
Theology Helps Our Walk with God
Third, doctrine helps safeguard us in our walk with God. Ministry is not easy. The pressures can be great. We believe—and thus, our doctrine matters again—that the devil prowls about, seeking whom he might devour (1 Pet. 5:8). Isolation, stress, and poor choices can lead to a fall. Once again, though, what we believe can help us live in victory. We believe that God sees all things, so to try to hide in our sin is a wasted effort.
Our doctrine reminds us that God not only lives in us through his Holy Spirit, but he has also promised to be with us always so we never face battles alone. And, we believe that God has placed us in his church among brothers and sisters who fight the battles alongside us. Overall, our beliefs ought to drive us toward obedience.
Theology Helps Us Stand
Fourth, our doctrine helps us stand against theological threats to our work. When you consider billions who’ve never heard of Jesus, for example, it might be tempting to think, “Surely, God will accept good people who never had a chance to hear the gospel. Maybe there’s another way for them to get into heaven.” We might assume that no Bible-believing leader would move in that direction, but anyone who does so wouldn’t be the first. Even the strongest believer can be tempted to allow emotion associated with eternal judgment for billions of people to trump biblical teachings—and all of us need a strong commitment to biblical doctrine to withstand this temptation.
Theology Matters for Missions
Arguing for the importance of doctrine, though, doesn’t ignore the significance of practical application of biblical truths. It’s one thing to be able to teach the doctrine that Jesus is the Son of God; it’s another matter to know the best method to engage a Muslim and convince him of that truth. Knowing that the church is “an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel” (BF&M, Article 6) is not the same as planting a church that strives for these characteristics. Teaching biblical truth is critical to planting and growing healthy churches, but theologizing apart from practical application is only an academic discussion.
“The world needs believers who are theologically astute and evangelistically driven.”
For sure, the Great Commission illustrates this truth. We can discuss for hours Jesus’s authority, the Spirit’s empowerment, baptism’s purpose, and the Christian’s role in the Great Commission, but those discussions lose their weightiness unless we do the Great Commission.
While “doing” without doctrine will surely weaken everything we do, theologizing without doing can become nothing less than arrogance. Billions will still go to hell while we’re discussing our doctrine if our theology doesn’t compel us to tell our neighbors and the nations about Jesus. The world needs believers who are theologically astute and evangelistically driven.
The goal of this series is to show how every area of the Baptist Faith & Message has relevance for global missions. We want to help pastors and church leaders guide their people to see God’s heart for the nations as they teach different doctrines. The Word that must guide us reveals to us a Father who delights in the praises of his people from every nation, tribe, and tongue—and we get to be a part of reaching that world.
Chuck Lawless is vice president and dean of graduate studies at Southeastern Seminary and team leader for theological education strategists of the IMB. He is the author of several books, including Nobodies for Jesus, Discipled Warriors, and Putting on the Armor. He writes at www.chucklawless.com. Follow him on Twitter.