My article for the Summer newsletter at Midlane Park ARP Church:
I have been asked to deliver one of the sermons at this year’s meeting of General Synod. The text I have chosen for this sermon is Romans 16:17-20. It is an interesting passage because after a long series of greetings at the close of the letter, Paul writes these rather startling words of warning: “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them” (Romans 16:17, NASB). Paul is telling the Roman Christians to watch out for those who will cause divisions and set up stumbling blocks within the church by teaching things that are contrary to the gospel.
It really is a simple warning that Paul gives here, but one that goes against so much of conventional thinking today. We are often told we shouldn’t make a big deal about doctrine (which is simply another word for teaching), because “doctrine divides.” But Carl Trueman, in his book The Creedal Imperative, makes this interesting observation about the verse:
Notice what Paul says here. Contrary to the modern notion that doctrine divides, Paul here says exactly the opposite: these people who must be avoided are divisive precisely because they have departed from the true teaching. It is their doctrinal deviance, their departure from true teaching, that makes them sources of division.
Sadly, many churches today give more attention to the advice of the world than the warnings in God’s word. They think that turning aside from sound teaching is a way to promote peace and advance the church. But John Calvin tells us that “the ministers of Satan are ever ready to take occasion to disturb the kingdom of Christ”; therefore, we always need to be on guard against false teaching and false teachers. This isn’t pastoral paranoia – it is the sobering warning of Holy Scripture!
Paul ends this sobering passage, though, by making three encouraging observations. First, he mentions the faithful obedience of the Roman Christians to the teaching of Scripture and how this has brought him much joy. Second, he tells them that God will soon crush Satan under their feet. It would be enough just to say that God would crush the evil one, but Paul tells them that this will happen under their own feet and it will happen soon! It is an encouragement that they will be successful against the false teachers if they will simply remain steadfast in the true teaching of the gospel – this is the only sure grounding for their feet. And finally, Paul reminds them of the blessing of God’s grace: “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” If they succeed, if Satan is to be crushed under their feet, it will be through God’s grace and it will be because Jesus Christ is Lord over all things.
Contrary to popular opinions, faithfulness to the gospel does bring unity. Christ is Head of His church, and Christians are to be united members of His body. They know what their King says and take Him at His word, they seek to joyfully obey their King, and they make the good news about their King central to all they day. And they also know that the only kind of doctrine that divides is false doctrine. So, they know this is something always to watch for.