After the gospel, conservative Christians seek to conserve the whole counsel of God. There is more to Christianity than the gospel. A lot more. There is the entire system of faith, the whole body of doctrine that emerges from the Scriptures as they are studied, compared and understood. Conservative Christians are not satisfied to preserve the gospel and then watch as the whole body of Christian doctrine is washed down the river of liberalism, compromise or doctrinal double-mindedness. The gospel is simply the entrance into the fold. The whole counsel of God is what the sheep are grazing on.
In contemporary Christianity, there is an attitude of minimalism afoot. Minimalism is a movement often found in music or art, where a work is stripped down to its fundamental features. So in modern Christianity there is a prevailing attitude that the only things which matter are the fundamental doctrines of the gospel (even these are questioned in Emergent circles). Anything less important, such as baptism, the sign gifts, eschatology, the doctrines of grace, church leadership, corporate worship or dispensationalism is regarded as peripheral when speaking to a modern Christian. Apart from particular doctrinal hobby-horses dear to the person in question, he regards the discussion or disputation of any doctrines except the fundamentals (or his hobby-horse doctrine) as divisive, immature and even impolite. Discussing such issues is to him the mark of a childish Christian who has not yet reached his serene place of doctrinal ecumenicism. To him, Christian maturity consists in arriving at a kind of pleasant, sleepy agnosticism over any doctrine other than the gospel itself (or his hobby-horse).
The results of this kind of too-clever-for-its-own-good attitude are seen all around us: a generation of Christians who have only the faintest grasp of the system of doctrine which has been fought for and refined over two millennia.
Most congregations are atheological; some are even anti-theological. How a church can dislike theology is a mystery; it is perhaps analogous to a race car driver hating roads.
Most churches have a bare and generic (if not deliberately shrunken) statement of faith, which most of the members pay little heed to, let alone work to understand.
Few members have a sound theology behind their practice; most are just looking for spiritual tips to make life work better. The occasional Christian makes the study of theology part of his interests, but most live by the creed of the Egotist: “How is any of this relevant to Me?”
Largely, this is the fault of the leaders, who preach and teach in a way that denigrates doctrine, de-emphasises the need to understand it, caters to the egotist and creates the view that sermons are how-to lectures.
Conservative Christians are like Paul. They are committed to the whole counsel of God, so much so that they would feel guilty had they not sought to understand it and pass it on to others (Acts 20:6).
To conserve the whole counsel of God will require at least three things.
First, there must be a commitment to expository preaching and biblical doctrine.
Second, there must be an informed and mature sense of the relative weight of various Christian doctrines.
Third, there must be a right understanding of fellowship and separation amongst Christians that disagree of matters of doctrine.
We’ll examine these three in turn.