Welcome to the third blog entry of New Direction, where we search the Spirit, Scripture and more discovering the New Direction God is leading his church in this post modern culture. Today, we take a quick look at doctrine.
It is often said that churches stand and fall on their doctrine. If you investigate the reason for the hundreds of denominations in existence today, oftentimes, you will find doctrine as the main culprit. In fact, numerous individuals, professing Christ as Lord, killed others for differences in doctrine. In 1 Tim 6.3-5, Paul warns that one who understands nothing teaches a ‘different doctrine.’ So, what is doctrine, and just how important is it? For this entry, I will quote heavily from Cecil Hooks paper, Gospel & Doctrine.
Dictionary.com says the following about the word, doctrine, ” a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government, a body or system of teachings relating to a particular subject: e.g. the doctrine of the Catholic Church.”
In my last entry, I discussed the gospel. The gospel, in and of itself, is a doctrine, or set of teachings. And, as I pointed out there, I believe that we must stand by that truth. When men twist the gospel message in any way, they clearly separate themselves from the core message of the Bible.
Churches and our Christian forefathers developed other doctrines over the course of the centuries, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, salvation, the nature of God, and teachings regarding baptism, just to name a few. During some of the darker periods, many groups took action against those who did not agree with all of their teachings. Today, we continue to do so, though to a less violent degree. Recently, I saw two pastors, on public television, get into a vivacious debate about the Trinity which, unfortunately, lacked the love Jesus commanded of us. In a discussion with another leader, he felt the need to declare that he could not call me brother because of our different understandings on what church looks like.
So, what teachings should we divide over? Cecil Hook writes, “The revealed word of God in the New Testament writings contains two kinds of messages to accomplish two different purposes.” Later, he points out, “Although these two kinds of messages are not isolated into different paragraphs, books, or epistles, there is a valid distinction to be made. There is the gospel which brings us into life and the teachings which direct our lives. The gospel gets us on the road, and the apostolic teachings guide us to the goal. The gospel gets us on the Lord’s work force, and the doctrine directs our life of service. The gospel brings us into fellowship while the doctrine/teaching guides those in fellowship. Doctrine is teachings. ”
Essentially, our fellowship with other believers hinges on our common faith in Jesus and His finished work on the cross. However, when it comes to other matters, we can (and should) agree to disagree in the name of love and harmony. Paul discusses this in Romans 14. As Mr. Hook points out, “Differences of opinions, scruples, and convictions about the teachings were matters of faith. Please read Romans 14 for Paul’s clear teaching on this point. One man had faith to eat all things while another was weak in faith with scruples (v. 1-2). The faith (convictions) you have keep between yourself and God (v. 22). One who violates his scruples or convictions does not act from faith; hence, he sins (v. 23).”
Because we lack perfection, both in understanding God’s ways and in following Him, we will continue to have division. Yet, by understanding the difference between the Gospel, and doctrine, we can better understand our brothers, and love the way Jesus commands. Mr. Hook concludes, “Fellowship is established when that element of the word called the gospel is believed and obeyed. Fellowship is sustained with God and man by following, though imperfectly, the other teachings of the word. There is little hope for unity among us unless we can discern the difference in the gospel which brings salvation and the teachings/doctrines which guide us toward maturity.”
Once you embrace this understanding, you take one step closer to effectively sharing your faith in a post modern society. Post modernism plays down the importance of logic and arguments, leaning more towards emotions and experience. Despite this reality, I have seen numerous well meaning pastors attempt to preach the Gospel, along with their non-gospel teachings/doctrines, to strangers on the street corner. The young people react as if they do not understand the preacher at all. While preaching the Gospel certainly requires elements of both emotion and logic, integrating long, drawn out arguments for various supporting doctrines only adds completely unnecessary human reasoning to God’s divine message and pushes away the very people the pastor hopes to reach.
However, do not take this message to infer that doctrine (outside of the gospel message) serves no purpose or has little importance. As Cecil Hook mentions above, our doctrines taken from God’s Word, imperfect as they may be, guide us in our walk with Christ and in fellowship. For the rest of this series/season, I will share with you doctrines I have learned from Bible study, experience, and teachings from some of our forefathers (such as Cecil Hook). Many of them will differ from traditional doctrines taught in major denominations and, more importantly, will help guide you how to live in love, as Jesus’ commands, in this post modern culture. Some of them may even help you break free of chains and yokes that some teachers have put onto our backs! Regardless, I hope you share my excitement as we take this journey together over the coming months.
Next week, we discuss an idea long lost… reading the Bible as a narrative, instead of a list of rules.
P.S. Cecil Hook adds, If you are still not convinced on this subject, I plead with you to read Carl Ketcherside’s revealing chapter in The Twisted Scriptures. This chapter, “Gospel and Doctrine,” along with the book and his The Death of the Custodian were almost like a new revelation from heaven for me.
The video version of this blog entry may be found below. Thank you for visiting!