Neil Postman’s understanding of modern society 20 years ago was that we have amused ourselves to death by salivating over what I call “media materialism.” Not only are we unaware about the growing indifference evangelicals have towards historical doctrine, but we have also to a certain extent fallen for this deadly disease. Augustine’s dictum: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love,” must play a substantial role in intra-mural disputations. However, when doctrinal certainty or the minimizing of central aspects of Christian worship (i.e. sacraments) become the norm in the church, then we might as well pack our post-modern bags and embrace the latest ecclesiastical novelties.
There is something very profound about our Reformed heritage: doctrine was always a matter of seriousness. In J. Gresham Machen’s classic work, Christianity and Liberalism he writes:
Luther (as we believe) was wrong about the Lord’s Supper; and it would have been a far greater calamity if being wrong about the Supper he had represented the whole question as a trifling affair. Luther was wrong about the Supper, but not nearly so wrong as he would have been if, being wrong, he had said to his opponents: ” Brethren, this matter is a trifle; and it makes really very little difference what a man thinks about the table of the Lord.” Such indifferentism would have been far more deadly than all the divisions between the branches of the Church. A Luther who would have compromised with regard to the Lord’s Supper never would have said at the Diet of Worms, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me, Amen.” Indifferentism about doctrine makes no heroes of the faith.
The deep significance rooted in Machen’s comment stems from a commitment to doctrine; not necessarily one that divides at all times, but one that unites our past with our future and gives us a firm ground to stand.