Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why Emphasize Doctrine?

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about the importance of doctrine:

Q:  Why do many churches emphasize doctrine so much?  As long as a person is sincere, does it really matter what they believe? 

Christian doctrine, that is the content of what a Christian or denomination believes and teaches, has become a difficult subject in recent years.  The large number of Christian denominations today are a result of the fact that over the course of Christian history differing positions developed on certain teachings, with the result that those on opposite sides of the issue formed separate organizations as a result of their differing beliefs. 

In contrast to this, the most recent century of Christian history has been characterized by different church bodies either merging or reinitiating fellowship with one another across denominational lines.  However, as the various churches have come together, it has not been because they resolved their differences, but instead, because they decided to overlook those differences and agree to disagree. 

But many Christians sincerely question whether this approach is acceptable or beneficial to Christianity at large, because although it might be more comfortable to overlook differences rather than resolve them, it merely ignores the problem rather than solving it.  Look, for example, at a marriage.  A couple who overlooks or ignores their differences rather than solving them will not have a healthy marriage, or perhaps a marriage at all, for very long.  And so it goes for churches. 

Doctrinal compromise, rather than resolution, also has other risks.  Some teachings stray so far from the truth that those who believe them cease even to be Christians, because the definitions have changed so much as to result in not just different beliefs, but a different God.  This was the case when the Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness religions arose in the mid-19th century.  Because they no longer taught that Jesus was God or that God was a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, they became not just another denomination of Christianity, but a completely different religion.

Other teachings do not stray so far as to cause the loss of salvation, but they do differ enough from truth to pose a danger to those who believe them.  For example, I have had friends in the past who believed that it was necessary to contribute some small part, such as responding to an altar call, in order to be saved, rather than God doing 100% of the work of saving.  I witnessed people who responded to as many as a dozen altar calls, because they were uncertain whether they were sincere enough the previous time they went forward.  This seemingly small difference in doctrine became an occasion for the enemy to cause them doubt and attempt to shake their faith.

Ultimately, Christian doctrine could be compared a sweater.  When a snag occurs and a small thread is exposed, the sweater still serves its purpose, but if the thread is pulled, the damage continues to increase until the entire sweater is unraveled. 

We can see this happening in recent church history.  Around 60 years ago, some denominations began to question certain commands in the New Testament regarding church order and morality.  As they began to change their churches’ teachings over the following decades, more and more topics became open to question.  By the time a generation had passed, such foundational teachings came into question that their seminaries began to teach that Jesus did not really rise from the dead and that Mary was did not really conceive Jesus as a virgin.  This trend eventually reached the point that the presiding bishop of a major denomination declared a few years ago, that she believed that there were paths to salvation other than Jesus.

If Christianity were merely a mystical path to enlightenment, individuals could shape and form it to fit their personal preferences, but that is not the type of spirituality the Bible portrays.  Instead, Scripture makes factual claims that can be weighed according to the evidence and proven or disproven, trusted or rejected.  As such, it is not a customizable set of principles, but instead, a united proposition concerning spiritual truth which stands or falls as a whole.

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