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As I was cleaning my room today I listened to a lecture by Mark Dever, who did his Ph.D. at Cambridge on the Puritan Richard Sibbes. Richard was not like the other Puritans in that he did not ultimately break with the Church of England during the time of the great Exodus of Puritan preachers. Why? Because he believed that unity in the gospel was more important than correctness in the secondary matters. I was actually surprised to hear Mark Dever approve of Sibbes’ perspective, and challenge young evangelical ministers to recover the distinction between the essential (the gospel) and the non-essential. I agree with the spirit of Dever’s understanding as expressed in this lecture, only I wouldn’t confuse the basic gospel message with the doctrine of justification the way he does (see below). I believe Eastern Orthodox Christians and Catholic Christians believe in the redemptive death, burial and resurrection and lordship of Jesus Christ regardless of what their doctrine of justification might be.
“We must be united, Sibbes taught, and we must be united around the gospel.” – Mark Dever
“In Sibbes’ hand, the centrality of preaching was a force for unity, not for dissent. … And it did so exactly because whatever other problems the church might have had, it was a church committed to the Protestant—that is to say the Biblical—gospel, the good news of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. And to leave such a church, would be tantamount to rending Christ’s body.” – Mark Dever
“Sibbes knew that the main point is the reconciliation of man to God, which is accomplished by the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, preaching is more fundamental than polity. I could be convinced of congregationalism biblically, and convinced that the gospel is more important. One of the things that we as evangelicals must do is recover that territory in between essential and unimportant. … It’s a vast tract that we must recover for faithfulness to scripture. There could be many things that are important that are not essential. There could be things that are important that are not essential. And there could be things that are kind of important that are not essential. … But simply because something is not essential does not therefore mean it is unimportant. We need to recover this in our own reflection on our lives, reflection on scripture, and in our preaching in our churches. If we do we’ll easily understand how preaching is more fundamental to polity, and yet polity is not a matter to be disregarded.” – Mark Dever
—————————————HT: Good Soldiers