Thursday, January 3, 2013

Setting Aside Doctrine

There is an idea floating around the evangelical church that if we just got rid of doctrine, we would all just get along. I have often found this to have the opposite effect. I have known people who have tried to minimize doctrine and have found they often end up fighting over incidentals. They get embroiled in fights over procedures and methodologies. Now such disputes can happen in any church, but I am convinced they happen more often when doctrine is minimized. The reason for this is that people will draw their identity from somewhere. If they are not informed on the basic issues, they will fixate on externals. They may not understand the issues involved in the charismatic movement, but they know we do not lift up hands here. They may not know the real issues involved in the question of liturgy, but they know we do not recite the Apostle's Creed here. We end up looking for buzzwords and external behaviors rather than things of substance. And the ironic thing is that sometimes people with real doctrinal differences can pretend agreement by just using the right buzzwords.

I believe the correct approach to unity is in the opposite direction. It is in the clear understanding of doctrine and all that is involved in it. But I believe this needs to be joined with an honest look at what is really important and what is more incidental. I believe this must ultimately be decided based on the emphasis of Scripture and not on my denomination or tradition. If a person genuinely disagrees with my position, I can discuss it with them. Even if I cannot convince them, I can still respect their position. But how do you even address buzz-words and externals? If our differences really amount to real differences in the basic philosophy of life, they are meaningful and discussable. But if they are simply a matter of my group versus your group and how we do things here versus how you do things, they are unresolvable. I have never been a great sports fan, but I have observed sports fans enough to know they have loyalties that go well beyond what team is actually the best or has the most potential. A dedicated sports fan will root for their team even when it is losing and has no chance of winning. This is not a criticism of sports fans, but if our denominational loyalties are like that, we have no chance of getting past them to any broader Christian unity.  It is only by understanding what Christianity is really about that we can work for real unity.

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