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“It is one thing to hear God’s Word.  It is another to fear it, heeding all God’s warnings, trusting all God’s promises, and obeying all God’s commands.”

Philip Graham Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations (Wheaton, 2001), page 551.

The liberal churches I’ve known are not openly hostile to the Bible.  They like the Bible.  They want their preacher to use the Bible.  They have home Bible studies.  What makes them “liberal” is that the Bible alone is not what rules them.  They allow into their doctrine, their ethos, their decisions, other complicating factors.  The Bible is revered, in a way.  But it is not the decisive factor.  It is only one voice among others.

This lack of clarity allows unbiblical ideas and behavior to get traction.  In a liberal church no one stands up, with an open Bible in his hand, and says, “Hey guys, we just don’t say/do things like that around here.  It isn’t biblical.”  That simple clarity just doesn’t exist in such a church.  There is no authority towering over all else, rallying the people to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Only the Word of God, received with meekness, can prevent a church from sinking lower and lower into mediocrity, irrelevance, conflict and sheer boredom.

Is the dominant mentality of your church functionally liberal?  Whatever your church’s commitment might be on paper, what is it that, in real terms, leads and guides and defines your church culture?  All our churches should see themselves as potentially unfaithful.

We who lead are responsible to keep our churches in constant, repentant realignment with Scripture alone.  The only effective safeguard against spiritual erosion is not our doctrinal statement on paper but personally to swallow the Word whole.  We must never stop being eager to learn and change and grow under the Sunday-by-Sunday impact of biblical preaching.  Let’s keep on following the Lord, according to his Word alone, going further with him than we’ve ever gone before, further than we’ve ever dreamed of going.

As we enter the new year of grace, 2015, let’s humble ourselves before the Word of God.  After all, the message of this unique Book is good news for bad people through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit.


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Ray Ortlund


Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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