In what way does the local church provide the best context for developing a sound biblical theology? (By “local church” I mean the gospel-forged relationships with those with whom I live out and before whom I am accountable to the Christian faith.) I’ll approach an answer by way of an illustrative detour. Bob attends Main Street Baptist Church in Smalltown, USA. He sits weekly with his family and other church members under the authoritative preaching of God’s word. He appreciates his preacher and enjoys the church’s fellowship. But his real consideration of Scripture comes from John MacArthur’s study notes and listening to John Piper’s sermon from last Sunday. Then he can tweet and chat with other anonymous folks about it. He enters a pseudo-community where you know everybody and nobody at the same time. He really isn’t concerned with how his MSBC brothers and sisters benefited from their preacher’s exposition. He sees little need in consulting his pastor when he can easily Ask Pastor John. He really has no idea if his brothers and sisters are holding fast the confession of faith.
In no way minimizing the gift these pastoral and theological giants are to the church, the primary field in which our soul’s graze is our local church. It is to our local brothers and sisters we owe primary attention. It is with them we must work out God’s word and share common convictions and confession. What Piper, MacArthur, Driscoll, Sproul or you-name-him thinks about an issue is important, but not nearly as important as what our local church thinks about it. Unless we’re members of Bethlehem Baptist Church John Piper is not commanded to keep my brothers and sisters from evil, unbelieving hearts that fall away from the living God, nor we him (Heb 3.12). We as members of our local church are commanded to do so for our brothers and sisters with whom we’re covenantally committed.
Rather than immediately wonder what Piper might think, we would benefit far more by asking what our brothers and sisters might think. If I’m commanded to help my brother hold fast his confession then I’d better know what he confesses! How will Bill work out this week’s text in his marriage? In what way did Bonnie see Christ in the text this week? How do we as a church work through Jesus’ teaching on divorce or Paul’s teaching on communion? Do we insist on independence and autonomous self-study (hyper-priesthood of the believer) or do we want to work out and share convictions within the biblical community?
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HT: Ray Van Neste