heretical. but biblical.

26 Jan

heretical.  but biblical.

Bear with me here.

Too often our definition of the Christian faith and spiritual maturity is defined by doctrine, and not by how we relate to the people in our life.

God.  People.  That’s what matters.

Not doctrine.

Here, many will state that doctrine is indeed a priority, that it’s in fact the priority; that it’s the primary source for knowledge of living out and growing in our faith.  They’ll argue that in order to love God you have to know God; and that in order to know God you have to study God; and in order to study God, you’ve got to have the right doctrine.  I see how many arrive at this conclusion.

I simply fundamentally disagree.

Proper “ologies” come into play in intellectually stimulating, academic conversations surrounding this discussion.  Proper christology.  Proper soteriology.  Proper pneumatology.  Proper eschatology.  Proper ecclesiology.  Proper epistemology.  Proper bibliology.  And the list goes on.  But here’s a question: which of these are essential?  What matters the most?

What did Jesus say mattered?

God.  People.  That’s what matters.

Not doctrine.

I’m not saying that doctrine isn’t fascinating; that it cannot enrich our lives and deepen our understanding of God.  Doctrine is certainly beneficial.  There is a place for proper doctrine.  It can help us grow, it can stretch us, it can encourage us, supplement and assist us on our journey as we seek to find and follow Christ.  But it is not the preeminent and essential part of our faith.  The preeminent and essential part of our faith is by its very nature relational.  How we relate to God.  How we relate to people.

Doctrine is nice.  But it’s not the point.  It’s not what matters.

God.  People.  That’s what matters.

I am convinced that our Western obsession with studying of doctrine has caused more problems than good.  The focus on who’s right and who’s wrong over any number of potentially divisive subjects in the church has pulled us further away from Jesus and community rather than drawing us closer to Him and each other.  We’ve missed the point and need to refocus.  Having “right” or “proper” doctrine (whatever that may be) doesn’t mean that our hearts are in the right place.  It doesn’t mean that we’re loving God or Others.

Right doctrine does not mean right living.

Right doctrine does not mean you’re a Christ follower.

It isn’t that doctrine isn’t important or that it doesn’t matter, but it can’t be the focus or priority of our faith lest it be rendered useless.  Christ’s focus was loving God and loving people.  That’s what He told His followers to focus on.  The danger in our obsession with doctrine is that we miss the point and lose focus of loving God and loving others.  Followers of the Way want unity of community, not uniformity of doctrine. There are varied backgrounds, unique opinions and diverse worldviews and abilities that make up our community of faith.  Many of those in that community will not share the same opinion about a great many doctrines as I do.  We may even disagree.  But it’s not the point.

I have an opinion on a lot of doctrines.  I’ve been fortunate to spend years in churches and schools where I learned about doctrine:  its implications; its history; its answers to the questions of life.  Yet though I’m certain there are indeed answers to the mountain of theological questions that tug at our heartstrings as part of God’s creation longing to be reconciled to Him, I willingly admit that I don’t always know the answer.

My life–the pain of my past, my present restoration and the joy of the prospect of my future–has pushed me further into the camp of asking more questions than giving answers; of being tolerant versus shunning those of different viewpoints or experiences (whether in one’s beliefs or religious practices or their doctrines); of appreciating and celebrating community instead of seeking to “convert” everyone around me to my held views under the presupposition that I couldn’t be wrong and if they disagree with me they couldn’t be right; of seeking to help our society with the conscience of Christ rather than spending the majority of our time and effort on the minute details of a particular doctrine; a focus on community over institutional values; of asking questions of God and each other rather than assuming that the Christian story and all its related questions are known in their entirety by (even the brightest) finite minds of our day; of living the gospel daily in community rather than spending hours telling my brothers and sisters that they don’t believe the “right” version of that same gospel; of rethinking what it means to be a Christian, rethinking what it means to evangelize and rethinking what exactly the “good news” of Jesus is.

God.  People.  That’s what matters.

I believe that the good news of Jesus is that God desires to reconcile the world unto Himself (Romans 5:9-11; Ephesians 2:1-16; Colossians 1:18-20).  This is done in the context of relationship.  It isn’t enough to simply claim Him as Savior.  We are called to follow Him as Lord.  And following Jesus is relational. We can’t journey alone.  Following the Way is done in community.

This week I read Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis, and stumbled upon the following appropriate commentary:

The Bible is a communal book.  It came from people writing in communities, and it was often written to communities.  Remember that the printing press wasn’t invented until the 1400s.  Prior to that, very few if any people had their own copies of the Bible.  In Jesus’ day, an entire village could probably afford only one copy of the Scriptures, if that.  Reading the Bible alone was unheard of, if people could even read.  For most of church history, people heard the Bible read aloud in a room full of people.  You heard it, discussed it, studied it, argued about it, and made decisions about it as a group, a community.  Most of the “yous” in the Bible are plural.  Groups of people receiving these words.  So if one person went off the deep end with an interpretation or opinion, the others were right there to keep that person in check.  In a synagogue, most of the people knew the text by heart.  When someone got up to teach or share insight, chances are everybody knew the text that person was talking on and already had their own opinions about it.  You saw yourself and those around you as taking part in a huge discussion that has gone on for thousands of years.

Because God has spoken, and everything else is just commentary.

Contrast this communal way of reading and discussing and learning with our Western, highly individualized culture.  In many Christian settings, people are even encouraged to read the Bible alone, which is a new idea in church history.  A great idea and a life-changing discipline, but a new idea.  And think of pastors.  Many pastors study alone all week, stand alone in front of the church and talk about the Bible, and then receive mail and phone calls from individuals who agree or don’t agree with what they said.  This works for a lot of communities, but it isn’t the only way.

In Jesus’ world, it was assumed that you had as much to learn from the discussion of the text as you did from the text itself.  One person could never get too far in a twisted interpretation because the others were right there giving her insight and perspectives she didn’t have on her own.  Jesus said when he was talking about binding and loosing that “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

Community, community, community.  Together, with others, wrestling and searching and engaging the Bible as a group of people hungry to know God in order to follow God.

In Matthew’s gospel we read the story of the protectors of doctrine coming to Jesus and “testing” Him with a question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

These are the pegs.  Loving God and loving Others.

All the Law.  All the Prophets.  All doctrine.  Everything.  Love God.  Love Others. The rest hangs on this.  When we don’t have that right, I would argue that right doctrine doesn’t matter–at all.

I am convinced that Christ is calling His church back to the basics of the faith–to follow Him in community together, making a difference in our world by loving those we encounter with an unconditional love that comes from God the Father in the Way of Jesus of Nazareth.

If that’s what Jesus was focused on, then perhaps we should focus on it too.

heretical. but biblical indeed.

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46 Responses to “heretical. but biblical.”

  1. wken January 26, 2010 at 1:35 PM #

    Wow … great points.

    The Pharisees were great about doctrine, right? They just forgot about God and people.

    I’ll be referring friends this way.

  2. marleiolson January 26, 2010 at 1:38 PM #

    really enjoyed this post. wonderful!

  3. Nikki January 26, 2010 at 3:40 PM #

    I was thinking about what it means to love God and others, and how can I do that today. I realized for me it is going to be a mindset change. A focus change, if you will. Today I need to focus on God and others. How will I love God and others today, I asked myself. I cannot conjure up a definite answer. Because I do not know what will happen today. So I must look for opportunities to love others. And I will talk to God about what it means to love Him. I want others to see God in me, through my love. Anyway, for me it looks like this. I need to redirect my focus every morning to love God and others, not myself. It will not look like this for everyone. But this is what I am going to try. And if it gets me nowhere I will have to try again. These are my thoughts.

  4. Jim Fisher January 26, 2010 at 7:18 PM #

    Great thoughts! In Jesus’ prayer for all future believers (John 17:20-26), um that would be us, “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” Jesus is praying that the love God has for his son is in you and me and that Jesus himself is in us. Why? So that we can have right belief? That makes no sense at all. It is so that his love may be lavishly poured out on our neighbors through us. There is no need for doctrine here. If all we did was that, everything else would be right and heaven would be right here on Earth. Accept His love and love it forward to others. Love God. Love our neighbors. Period. Anything more is less.

  5. lissaloulou January 26, 2010 at 8:46 PM #

    Well put.

  6. taja January 26, 2010 at 9:56 PM #

    i agree we are to love God and others and tell them about Jesus. But what do you think about their sin? I know we are to love others like God did, or we are to try at least. We are not perfect, but I think we are to meet people where they are and their sin will take care of itself. It doesnt mean I condone what that person is doing, but if they are earnestly seeking God, and want to learn more about him he will convict them of their sins. Any thoughts on this?

    • Kaitlyn January 29, 2010 at 9:24 PM #

      As the Bible says numerous of times, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We all have sin in our lives and should not cast judgment upon others & their sin.

      I agree that we should meet people where they are and with the help of God, you can see miraculous changes in them and even yourself.

      Leviticus 19:18 says:” ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

      I think it is 100% possible for a person to want to know God truly and is seeking earnestly, they can be convicted of their sins. 3 1/2 years ago I found out my dad was being unfaithful to my mom. 27 years of marriage and 5 children later I was devastated and very angry with my dad. 2 weeks after this life changing event, my mom was diagnosed with breast. cancer. Needless to say my relationship with my father suffered and I truly relied upon God to show me how to unconditionally love him. Even though it is harder some days than others, I strive to love my father like I love myself. My dad was not a regular church goer and within the past 3 1/2 years he has truly developed into a man earnestly seeking Christ. And as he searched for Christ in his life, he was convicted of his sins and has been restoring his relationship between his children little by little.

      LOVE GOD. LOVE PEOPLE.

  7. πίστις January 27, 2010 at 6:15 PM #

    Can we agree that doctrine is the mutual interpretation of what the Gospel has to say? If so, then doctrine unto itself is not the evil here. How can you advocate that having a certain belief or opinion about what the Word of God says is wrong? Isn’t that just ANOTHER belief or opinion about what God’s Word says — or doesn’t? For me, I’ll hold fast to the belief that there are absolutes in the Bible. I don’t want a “stick your finger in the air” to see which way the spiritual winds are blowing interpretation, thank you. Don’t get me wrong, pushing the envelope can be a wonderful thing, especially if it’s been pushed to far in the wrong direction. Let’s just be more careful to give respect where respect is due. In a word (or three) be VERY specific. Sometimes I find myself wondering why scripture is posted only to be followed by a watered down and contaminated explanation of it’s meaning. God got it perfect the first time, not one jot or one tittle can be improved upon. Oh, and by the way, I wrote this because I care about you, all of you.

  8. rc January 27, 2010 at 8:35 PM #

    Perhaps the point was missed. This eloquently worded statement, assuring that doctrine is of little, if any, importance while loving God and loving people should be, and is, at the forefront of the true Christian faith, is not to say that “having a certain belief or opinion…is wrong”. Clearly to have any faith at all one must develop some belief around the tangible evidence of our God. So it is not the essence of that belief that is being advocated as wrong, but rather the focus on this man made creation, doctrine. The misstep of the modern Christian faith is purely in the focus and direction, which has seemingly centered itself around the doctrine itself rather than the living embodiment of the teachings of His Word. What is “wrong” is when the doctrine, as it has in so many cases within the current day Church, takes precedence over true faith and following of the the Way. Love God. Love people.

  9. πίστις January 28, 2010 at 7:29 PM #

    I don’t think the point was missed, rather it was never defined in the first place. Could we get past arguing semantics, please?

    Define for me doctrine.

  10. rc January 28, 2010 at 7:57 PM #

    Doctrine: a set of teaching or instruction in common law tradition.

    Point: stop worrying over the pettiness of every rule and regulation. Become involved in the relationship that God intended. With Him. And with others.

    Also stated: Love God. Love People.

  11. πίστις January 29, 2010 at 6:35 AM #

    “..give respect where respect is due … be VERY specific.”

    So doctrine to you must mean teaching (or instructing) others to ignore teaching or instruction?

    And rather we should all get together and love God and each other as the Bible instructs… oh sorry wait… as “we” as a “community” think we should love God? Even worse yet, perhaps “we” don’t even think about it, we just do it?

    Perhaps some things just can’t be separated.

  12. The WayWard Follower January 29, 2010 at 8:46 AM #

    @ taja: I believe my answer to the question of “confronting” the sins of those who don’t yet know Christ is to attempt to show the unconditional love of the Father to them. This seems to be a habitual practice of Christ’s throughout the gospels. I’m convinced when people encounter and experience God’s hesed love through Christ and through us (indeed, through Christ working in, through and around us) that their lives will be changed.

    Mine was.

    What do you think that looks like?

  13. The WayWard Follower January 29, 2010 at 8:51 AM #

    @ πίστις: My personal interpretation of your sarcastic and condescending tone is that you’ve at once both completely missed and further proven the point of the post, providing evidence of the disturbing nature of this passion for protecting doctrine and practice–even at the extent of ignoring what Jesus answered as the greatest commandments for Kingdom Life and Following the Way.

    I would encourage you to re-read the post and the comments that follow, thinking through the tone and motives behind your desire to seemingly be argumentative rather than engaging in constructive conversation around loving God and loving others in the Way of Jesus Christ.

    I shall do the same.

  14. rc January 29, 2010 at 9:34 AM #

    @ πίστις: You had asked for the definition of doctrine. I gave it. Though the way in which you reiterate my definition is not how I had defined it seeing as that you are defining a verb, while doctrine is a noun. And though i personally said nothing of ignoring some teaching that is quite the valid point. In essence is doctrine not the picking and choosing of Biblical teachings to apply to one’s life?

    Yes, that is exactly what it is. Doctrine is “a set of teaching or instruction”, but only a set. By definition exclusive. So would it not be more beneficial to stop wasting time over the arguments about doctrine and reflect Jesus’ charge to love one another with every movement we make?

  15. Maia January 29, 2010 at 7:12 PM #

    I agree!!

    The problem I have with the study of theology and all that comes with it, is the marked differences and doctrine that seem to come out as a result of ‘study’

    People study Gods Word and come out with totally different ideas and concepts relating to scripture.

    When I fell in love with Jesus I just devoured His Word.
    Why?

    Because I wanted to know about the one I loved
    Because I was amazed at His Grace and Mercy
    Because I wanted an intimate relationship with Jesus
    Because when I read of His deeds and Character it only caused me to fall more in love with Him

    Not because I wanted theology I cared not for that.I just wanted to know Christ and the power of His resurrection

    His Love for me totally transformed and revolutionised my life
    And as a result of that I told ‘EVERYBODY’ about Him whether they wanted to hear it or not

    He was just so exciting and real to me and I couldn’t help but tell people about Him.

    It says in the Word ‘Where your heart is there is your treasure’

    I had good news and I shared it

    Many people got saved in that time

    : )

    Gods heart is people
    He loves people and it is not His will that any perish
    He loves people so much that He gave up His only son

    I for one am grateful

    God is totally AWESOME!!

  16. Jerome January 29, 2010 at 11:40 PM #

    Respectfully, I believe that your whole premise is flawed. The Platonic distinction between head and heart, between love and doctrine, is artificial. Correct doctrine will only better enable you to love God and love your fellow man more effectively.

    I mean no disrespect, but your argument sounds to me like a guy disparaging someone for wasting his time going to medical school when he should be spending his time caring for the sick.

    • Kaitlyn January 30, 2010 at 12:14 AM #

      It’s not wasting time per say, it is coming about Loving God and Loving people from an alternative route.

    • The WayWard Follower January 30, 2010 at 5:01 PM #

      @ Jerome: Following your medical school analogy; I wonder if after we’ve taken some courses, we forget what we’re there for. Like our current health care system, we become misguided and motivated by things “other” than the original intent–to help people.

      I’m not saying that we shouldn’t study Scripture; or that we shouldn’t be aware of and learn (yes, even study) doctrines that enable us to better understand the character of God. I am suggesting, however, that we (as a Church, particularly in the West) have got our priorities so far out of whack that perhaps the pendulum should swing back a bit–following the intent and purpose of doctrine and Scripture–to help us better love God and love people.

      Your thoughts?

      • Jerome January 30, 2010 at 6:00 PM #

        My views on where the pendulum has swung is almost completely contrary to yours. In my view, doctrine has been downplayed in American evangelicalism to the point where the average “Christian” doesn’t even understand why a group that denies the deity of Christ should be labeled a false church. “Because after all, they love Jesus. Who am I to judge?”

      • paulz January 30, 2010 at 11:42 PM #

        If every Christian just looked at the two most important rules (love God, love everyone else) and actually applied them to their daily lives, we would see a whole different attitude displayed to Christianity rather then the one seen today. Right now Christians are seen as the people who say they believe in something but they don’t act it out in their life.

        Why can’t we ever be serious about our faith in the Lord Jesus? Why can’t we go out in the world and focus on God and sharing his Good News by showing his love and telling about his love as well?

        Doctrine is as dangerous as traditions in that both can distract us from the important things in our faith by adding things that are not necessary to have. However, both can be good if they are guided by the Holy Spirit and are made sure that the goodness stays good and doesn’t get corrupted through time.

  17. Wes January 30, 2010 at 2:40 AM #

    I like what you have to say about the importance of relationships.

    I see the importance of doctrine, as something necessary for those relationships to be established and grow in healthy ways. Just like it’s great if you love animals and try to be kind to them, but you can do that more effectively if you spend some time in vet school, or at least working with a vet or similar.

    There are two main reasons I wound up in the Orthodox Church. One is doctrine (and history), the other is because that’s where I learned to pray again; for me it really was the spiritual hospital where I could be healed and in some respects am still being healed. The two reasons are not divorced from each other but closely related. But I think I agree with the point you were making, doctrine by itself won’t do that much good.

    There’s a saying in the Orthodox Church that goes something like this. A true theologian is someone who truly prays.

    God bless.

  18. thenonconformer January 30, 2010 at 4:13 AM #

    Jesus made it clear the daily dwelling on God’s Words is what is important.

    Heaven and earth will pass away but God’s Words will not.

    Hearing from God personally, few people can hear Him firstly

  19. Daniel Williamson January 30, 2010 at 1:27 PM #

    Bear with me here 🙂

    II Peter 1:3-8
    “His divine power has granted us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    Let’s follow that through in an easier to read bullet format:
    1) God has given to us all things that enable us to live like Christ.
    2) This happens through knowledge of God.
    3) By (through, because of, as a result of) knowledge, God has revealed His promises to us.
    4) Through belief in the promises (i.e. the promises of the gospel), you become a child of God.
    5) Because you are a child of God, you have victory over sin and the flesh.
    6) Because you have faith, you have good works (the opposite of sin).
    7) Supplement your good works with knowledge!

    Immediately upon conversion to Christianity, the Holy Spirit enters the new convert (John 7:37-39, Acts 1:8). Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one and the same (John 7:38-39). Therefore, when Jesus says, “Abide in me, and I in you,” in John 15:4, He is referring to the Spirit abiding in the believer. “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit,” (John 15:5). If “you bear much fruit [you] prove to be [Jesus’] disciple,” (John 15:8). In other words, if you are a Christian, you will bear good fruit. That brings us to point number 7 (above) based on II Peter 1:8 where Peter exhorts us to supplement that good fruit with knowledge. 


    Where does this knowledge come from? It comes from the Scriptures. II Timothy 3:16 states that, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness. That the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Interesting to note that Paul here says that good works are directly related to doctrine, as though through the inspired Bible, God teaches us doctrine, and THEREFORE we have good works. Doctrine is the means to an end. The end, of course, is loving God and then loving others (as Michael’s post made clear). All the laws and the prophets are base on loving God and loving others. But the way we are able to love God and the way we are able to love others is as a result of and directly related to our consumption of the Scriptures. You see, the Christian life is all about relationship as Michael said. But the relationship is based on what we know of God through how He reveals Himself in the Scriptures. In fact, the only way any of us are Christians is because of the self-revelation of God through the Bible (to a greater or lesser extent). As it is written, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ,” (Romans 10:17). Therefore, if Paul says (1) doctrine is taught in the Scriptures, (2) it is the way I came to a saving faith in Christ, and is (3) considered “profitable” by Peter, then I will surely seek to know much of it!

    That is not to say that doctrine is the only thing taught in Scriptures, but it is at least a hefty focus. If it is a large focus, it does deserve a good deal of consideration. Truly, doctrine is subservient to relationship, but doctrine is a requirement for the relationship to progress to maturity, and the writer of Hebrews urges us to press on towards maturity in Christ (6:1). If the way we press on towards maturity is through knowledge of the Scriptures, and if doctrine is a part of the Scriptures, then we must know what the doctrines taught in the Scriptures are.

    Certainly, the Pharisees were very dogmatic in their readings of the Law! Dogma (or “ologies” as you called them) are rightly to be condemned if they are the end goal. That is the reason Jesus was so harsh with the Pharisees–because they were using the letter of the law as an idol above loving God. If doctrine is in the Bible, then it is inspired by God (II Timothy 3:16). Inspired by God. This is the condemnation of the Pharisees as spoken by Jesus in Mark 7:6-10: “And He said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophecy of you hypocrites, as it is written: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines (teaching as inspired) the commandments of men (as opposed to the commandments authorized and authored by God).””

    But doctrine not condemned. For in fact it is the way we are able to know and effectively worship the Lord our Savior, so there is certainly a place for it. But that place is under love and serves the purpose of enriching and giving reason for our love of God. Loving God means you hold Him as the supreme treasure in your life. The only way He can be prized in His proper place is if we recognize all that He has done for us and who He is. This knowledge (which according to Peter is to be sought after) is found in doctrine. Jesus did not condemn the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17), or the knowledge of them. But He did condemn them as an end unto themselves. “All the Law and the Prophets are based on these two” suggests that the Law and the Prophets are to be studied and learned from. In fact, Jesus Himself taught from the Scriptures even at the age of twelve with such effectiveness that those who listened marveled. Certainly knowledge is a good thing. Jesus was not trying to undermine the Law and the Prophets, but was rather shifting the focus of their study towards the proper place–love.

    
Doctrine should not be a cause for division (as it too often is). It appears to me this article is a backlash against the perceived overly-dogmatic and Pharisaical church in America. However, let us not be too hasty in our outright rejection of doctrine simply because it is a trademark of those whom we do not wish to be like. For if we are guilty of that (as it appears this article is), then we ourselves are causing the very division we are trying to fight. Let us rather find the middle way between the two viewpoints. That is the way of Christ. That is following the second greatest commandment as a result of the first.

    • Daniel(2) January 30, 2010 at 11:31 PM #

      I beleive that you can love Jesus without knowing much about him. I know that he’s God of the Universe, He died for me and He loves me more than anything else.

      However, Doctrine is important. “My people are being destroyed because they don’t know me…” (Hosea 4:6a). I beleive that as a christian, I’m responsible to know what I beleive in so I can share that. Many Christians get a bad rap because we can’t tell others what we beleive or why we beleive it.

      • The WayWard Follower January 30, 2010 at 11:33 PM #

        @ Daniel(1? 2?); So true, and I’d add the words of one who knew Christ well (and also knew a great deal ABOUT Christ), St. Francis of Assisi–“Preach Christ always–if necessary, use words.”

        How do we live out that statement?

      • paulz January 30, 2010 at 11:44 PM #

        I believe a lot of Christians are more used to the idea of spreading the Gospel word wise through discussions and debates ect…
        However, Jesus shows us through his life that we should also show the Gospel. Apply the Good News to our life and actually live like a Christian.

        If all of those Christian debaters and theologians actually act out all that they talk about our world would actually get somewhere (though not everyone is good when it comes to what they believe…).

    • Gerasimos February 7, 2010 at 5:26 AM #

      “In fact, the only way any of us are Christians is because of the self-revelation of God through the Bible”

      This is part of the problem, not the solution: me, my bible and God. Community is not something you add on. It’s something you’re born into. Without community you’re nothing. The problem with a lot of churches is that they begin with an individualistic notion of salvation then expect to end up with community but all that happens is they have a collection of individuals, not real community.
      In Christianity the community you’re born into is called the Church or the Body of Christ. We are born into this community through baptism and our life in community continues through Communion with Christ’s Body and Blood.
      If you start with a notion of salvation that is individualistic, external to community, then what you’ll always end up with is individuals reading the bible alone and trying to be better persons. It doesn’t really change anything.

  20. rc January 30, 2010 at 2:15 PM #

    @Daniel: Without denying doctrine’s mention in Scripture its definition must be taken into account. Even as Paul references it he gives no clear outline of what “right” doctrine should entail. This is where the current discussion comes into play. So much time and effort is spent on the fights and discussions over what that “right” doctrine truly is. And as you’ve mentioned it causes many divisions. But in the accusation of this post furthering those divisions through “rejection of doctrine” there is a major flaw.

    As so many have seemed to interpret it, this accusation reasons on the assumption of doctrine being singular. It also seems that many have interpreted this turning of the focus away from doctrine as a rejection of His Word. Yet these are not equivalent. Doctrine is the resulting set of teachings from the literal picking and choosing of what is “important” to live by in the Bible. Doctrine is what we highlight. And the rest is what we have sadly chosen to ignore.

    Would it not be better to leave the focus on doctrine behind and live our lives as if we had highlighted every single word? For if we all can agree that, it is His Word and that we will to live by it, surely we will find that love remains. Love God. Love people.

  21. David Kramer January 30, 2010 at 10:09 PM #

    The ironic thing about this discussion is that it is that it exactly exhibits the point the Church has been missing. It’s not about whether or not we should have doctrine, or that doctrine is evil. It’s about the priority of it. What is the core item we should be focused on, whether we got the procedure right or where our heart is? The Bible states we shall be known for our love for one another, not how well we bond by ascribing to the same doctrine. Jesus did not say love doctrine first, and that will make you love Him and people. Instead we are told to love God, then people, and guess what…if we JUST did that, we’d complete the Law and we’d be living the right and true doctrine automatically. But as simple as it is, loving requires much more of us than does stamping our name to a doctrinal statement. What dead faith that is.

    I say I am an American and uphold the Constitution, easy part. But if I deny my fellow American his/her right to worship another God, I am not really American. I can easily pledge to the doctrinal statements of a particular Christian religion, but until I practice love for one another, or love for God, am I really even a Christian? One is easy, the other is tough. Yet while it’s there in black and white, Love God first and love your neighbor as yourself, if you love Me then you will keep My commandments….that’s tough. And rather than acknowledge the priority of love versus doctrine is out of wack…we focus on debating/discussing/arguing the merits of doctrine. Doctrine is fine…but without love it’s meaningless. Without love, we will fight and remain divided.

    Clearly doctrine is necessary, but love is primary. Relationships are primary. There were a lot of mixed up doctrines and practices in the Corinthian church, many of which were non-Christian, but Paul loved them and used his relationship to get to their hearts, not issue a checklist of doctrinal statements. Instead his letters to them (and other churches) were personal and relational. What we have done, all to often, is pull out concepts from them and created checklists and fought against each other as a result. So the world sees us as fragmented and divided, we kick our own out of our churches when the tax collector wrote we should treat the wayward one as a tax collector. Hmmmm. How was the tax collector treated? Jesus invited him to follow and loved Him. As someone mentioned earlier, doctrine is a noun. That is rightly true. It’s a set of beliefs, a thing, and thus a noun. Love is a verb. In Hebrews 11, faith is followed by a verb….by faith Abraham… each time, the person does something to give life to their faith. The act of loving God and people gives life to our doctrine, but seldom, if ever, will doctrine produce love. Even the 10 Commandments break down into two categories of God and people and breaking one breaks the other. Because God says to love others, you cannot love God if you hate others. If you don’t love God, you likely will not love all your neighbors and perhaps not even yourself.

    God is interested in relationships, has been since the beginning and that’s what He died for. Not so we can argue over doctrine, and have completed our checklists to get to heaven and have all our pain and troubles taken away…but so His will can be done ON EARTH as it IS in heaven. He didn’t need to die to populate heaven to accomplish His will. He died so we can do what we were intended to do from the very beginning…to commune with Him and each other in love and not selfishness. But some have put more importance on doctrine, which without love, results in anger, bitterness, resentment, control, envy, strife…not fruits of the spirit. We’ve been counting down the days for the Bridegroom to come far too long looking for rescue. Who wants a beaten and battered bride. We hold His coming because we’ve not adorned ourselves properly and shown our beauty by loving one another and God first. Maybe when we get tired of whining about persecution and our rights being taken away, and start loving each other and showing people there is a better way by living what we say we believe instead of just making up lists of rules, then we will be a light on a hill and the Bridegroom will come, not to rescue and kick butt of our adversaries, but the marry and feast and party…then go back later and kick butt.

    Want doctrine….love God, love one another. Do that and in time you’ll get all the rest in order too.

  22. Kai Stevens January 30, 2010 at 11:47 PM #

    I love what you said Michael and I agree.

    The religious leaders of Christ’s time followed the doctrines of that time, in a very outward and obvious way, but God said he did not know them.
    I can not steal, not kill, not worship a graven image…. And not know God.

    The key is in the heart. And if love for God and love for my fellow man is not in our heart, then God does not know us.

    So much hate is spat back and forth about who’s doctrine is correct. Seems the point has been missed. I have seen physical fights break out. I sat in church with a woman who stood up and shouted, “Well, if Madona is going to heaven, then I don’t even want to go.”

    WOW!!

    Now THAT was Christ-like (Christian). Really?

    I don’t know if the ‘rapture’, calling away, will happen before, during, or after the 7 years of tribulation. And nobody DOES. What’s that got to do with showing love to my neighbor? In showing God’s light and love and hope to the world?

    Is that what Jesus came here for? Died on the cross for? So we could spit venom at each other in His name? Really?

  23. craig February 1, 2010 at 2:47 PM #

    I wonder how one could presume to know another person without caring for that person’s nature, character, personality, and history. Can you truly love a person if you refuse to study that person–to know that person for who he or she is? Can you truly love a person if you refuse to listen to a word that person says?

    Theology (and all of its assorted “-ologies”) is about knowig the person and mind of God–his nature, character, personality, and history. I don’t really believe one can love God if one refuses to study God–to know the Great I Am for who he is. And if God has communicated expressly his truth and his history through his Word, the Bible, can one claim to really care about him if one won’t read, study, and know what he has communicated?

    In what other kind of relationship would it be love if the one talks, but the other never listens?

    Relationship requires knowledge. Otherwise it is love for oneself.

  24. Daniel Williamson February 1, 2010 at 5:41 PM #

    @RC (primarily)
    A couple interesting thoughts here. First, consider the apostle Paul. After his conversion on the Damascus road, he went to Arabia and re-studied the Scriptures for three years. I assume he did this because he recognized that though he knew the OT intimately, he had only known it from the angle of strict orthodox Judaism and not in light of the gospel. He had spent countless hours pouring over it and had translated what he learned into living it out. But he recognized as a result of conversion that things had changed completely when Christ came. I think he must have redevoted himself to studying the Law and the Prophets, looking at it through the lens of a Christian. For three years he did this! And then for another four after that he did something else (perhaps tent making?) before he made his first missionary journey. So, for a total of seven years after his conversion, Paul studied the Scriptures and progressively changed his life in accordance with the new viewpoint. Therefore, he was able to tell his spiritual offspring, “Walk like me. Do the things you saw me do while I was with you.” But what happened before he could say those things? He followed the example of Ezra as found in Ezra 7:10, “For Ezra set his heart to study the law, and to do it, and to teach His statutes and rules in Israel.” That progression is where it all starts if we are to learn anything from the life of Ezra, Daniel, Jesus, Paul, or any of the apostles. Study. Do. Teach. Each of those is underpinned and is upheld through love. You study God because you want to know Him in a loving, relational way. You do what He says because you read that He is glorified when we obey Him (and because we love Him, we are zealous for His glory above ourselves). And then we are able to teach others how to love Him as we do, and we can tell them to live like we do. The most loving thing you could do would be to tell a friend about the love of your life–Jesus.
    —————————————————————————————————
    Second, context is everything. I know you all know this, but I’m reiterating it because it has been incorrectly glossed over. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees in the text. What was the problem with the Pharisees? Jesus called them “hypocrites” and “a brood of vipers.” Not really nice. The condemnation Jesus had for them was not that they did not know the Law, but they (like Paul) were reading it incorrectly. They were not reading it out of love, but out of duty. They added to the Law. Jesus condemned them for adding to the Law. In Mark 7, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees when He says, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” THAT was His condemnation of them and the context of the verses in question. The Pharisees were honoring God with their lips (Matthew 6:5) and publicly. But they were not loving God in their hearts. They were like Cain who offered a sacrifice that the Lord did not want, therefore, just like Cain, they were rejected by God. Their problem was ADDING TO the Law and TEACHING AS DIRECTIVES FROM GOD the traditions of men. God didn’t want the traditions of men. He wanted the men. They were giving God their traditions and wrongly expecting Him to accept it. What He wanted then and now is the men themselves. Since they were not willing to give that, Jesus rejected them outright. This is the context we find ourselves in.
    —————————————————————————————————–
    Third, going back to Paul, After the seven years, he began his missionary time. During those seven years, he was molding himself (by the power of the Spirit) into the image of Christ through devotion to study. The only reason he studied was from love. And from that study, he then wrote all about doctrine. You wouldn’t reject Romans, would you? Romans is explicitly and totally doctrine and living it out. God saw fit that doctrine was profitable. He put it in the Bible for us to study and love Him as a result of. Love comes mixed in and mingled throughout. But God would not have you stop at love only. Love of God is demonstrated through action. If you love a guy, you don’t just have emotion. You also do things that show your love. You do things that he will like and approve of. The way that you know what he will like and what he will accept or reject is if you know him. So, knowledge comes into play as a result of love. And deeper love as a result of further knowledge.

  25. Christopher Godau February 1, 2010 at 8:13 PM #

    1 Timothy 1:5-7 ( TMSG ) 5The whole point of what we’re urging is simply love—love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God. 6Those who fail to keep to this point soon wander off into cul-de-sacs of gossip. 7They set themselves up as experts on religious issues, but haven’t the remotest idea of what they’re holding forth with such imposing eloquence.

  26. The WayWard Follower February 1, 2010 at 10:43 PM #

    @ Craig: I’m not sure where you get the following from my post–

    “…without caring for that person’s nature, character, personality and history”; “refuse to study”; “refuse to listen to a word”; “[if one] refuses to study God…through his truth, his history, his Word, the Bible…”

    I also find it fascinating that you capitalize (i.e., attribute deity to) his “Word” and the “Bible” and yet do not attribute deity to the personal pronoun “his” when speaking of God.

    Is this not yet another symptom of our skewed thinking, allowing the elevation of anything (even Scripture) above God?

    @ Daniel: Great point about Paul’s journey in the wilderness prior to his accepted (by some? by many?) apostleship. A lot can be inferred from a very small amount of textual evidence on the issue.

    It’s also interesting to point out that he himself claimed to be an “apostle to the Gentiles;” in other words, to the “others” who weren’t accepted and didn’t believe in the traditional doctrines underlying the Jewish (and yes, Christian) faith. For example, instead of arguing the points of circumcision, he loved them and showed that it didn’t really even matter; that they were accepted by God regardless. A circumcised heart is what he (and indeed He, as in God) asks for. In Galatians he goes so far as to attack outright those who pressed issues of tradition and doctrine, to the point of profane language. Though Paul truly had an academic mind and history, and had the right to brag far beyond the knowledge of you or I, he claimed that it was all “rubbish” (awful translation for that word; again, profanity would be more accurate).

    In addition:
    @ all: One thing I’ve noticed in some of the posts during our discussion of loving God and loving others as it relates to doctrine is the tragic absence of conversation (again, in some) surrounding loving others. “We love God therefore we study doctrine” seems to sadly leave out the fact that God has chosen to love others through us. It’s not even an after thought in our discussion. Yet we are called to be vessels of God’s love. No matter where we end up in the discussion of the place of study and doctrine, on this point we agree (for it is backed up repeatedly by Scripture, the example of Christ and His early church, as well as doctrine). We’re sadly missing the second greatest commandment in our dialogue. I think this further proves my point–our priorities are out of whack, and the pendulum does indeed need to swing.

    Love God. Love Others.

    Let me be clear. I am not specifically challenging the study of doctrine, and I am certainly not arguing that we ought not to read or study the Scriptures. In fact, I use Scripture to arrive at these conclusions (e.g., the blog post itself quoting Scripture and the words of Christ found in the gospel narrative); instead, I’m challenging our elevation of our own additions to and interpretations of Scripture (similar to what has been pointed out in the comments as what Jesus “called out“ the Pharisees for), namely doctrine and it (or anything else, for that matter) being elevated above loving God and loving others. This love must be primary in order for our faith to have credence and credibility. It’s not so much that I have a problem with doctrine, or that I don’t “like” it. What I don’t like (and indeed do have a problem with) is that the focus of many churches and self-professed Christians has become their doctrine as opposed to Jesus’ teachings, life, and the life He calls His followers to live out in love.

    My issue is not with the things in Scripture that are clear–some things are thematically woven throughout the fabric of the narrative of Scripture, and could be rightly argued to be essential to the faith. Others–most things, in fact–are not black and white. They are not clear, nor are they essential. I have my own opinions on these doctrinal issues, as I’ve stated; but they are unimportant. Even in our discussion here (and elsewhere in other social networks, face to face conversations, et cetera), it becomes apparent that our focus is challenged; we’re continually “pressured” to stand up for our doctrinal stance on issues that are not necessarily essential. “Right doctrine.” “Proper doctrine.” “Sound doctrine.” What really matters?

    The point of the blog post is that “sound doctrine” should not point the focus to itself; rather, it should assist us in our focus on loving God and loving others; sadly, that often times is not the case. That’s where we’ve gone awfully wrong.

    I appreciate the comments and discussion that we’ve seen thus far on this post. It’s encouraging to participate in dialogue with you, and to stumble through this journey of what it means to follow Christ together. May we continue to journey as Followers of the Way in that spirit and light as we strive to love God and people in community in the example of Jesus Christ.

    • Gerasimos February 9, 2010 at 4:22 AM #

      Wayward, you wrote, “Great point about Paul’s journey in the wilderness prior to his accepted (by some? by many?) apostleship. A lot can be inferred from a very small amount of textual evidence on the issue.”

      I’m not sure what underlies this statement/question. Is it another example of the attempt by some to put a wedge between the Apostle Paul and the other apostles? The argument goes something like this. St. Paul separated himself from the apostles in Jerusalem and went into the desert to study and pray. At this time God revealed to him his apostleship and mission to the Gentiles. From this (and the later disagreement among the apostles on the issue of the circumcision of gentiles) we see that early Christian truth is not based upon “apostolicity” but, rather, upon the individual study of Scripture and prayer. There are (at least) two things that this argument doesn’t take into account: first, that most heresies that arose in the next few centuries were based upon this very principle and, second, that it was the principle of “apostolicity” that became essential for the Church to determine what books should comprise the canon of the New Testament. Any attempt to undermine the authority of the apostolic college automatically has the effect of undermining Scripture itself. This is an example of how important doctrine and a knowledge of Christian history is to Christian spirituality. Love is great but anyone can love, even an atheist.

  27. Daniel(2) February 3, 2010 at 8:32 AM #

    Amen. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

    • Gerasimos February 7, 2010 at 5:39 AM #

      The discussion so far really hasn’t gotten beyond the individual reading a book (the Bible) and finding something to obey. If this is what Christianity is then you’ve defined it has an individualistic faith. How then can Christianity express community? The communal life in God has to begin with a communal notion of God Himself. Salvation itself must be communal. Our Christian life has to be communal. The whole thing has to be grounded in community, not superficially (the Bible told me so) by essentially. Without this we just go endlessly around in circles.

  28. Daniel Williamson February 7, 2010 at 6:31 PM #

    @Gerasimos

    So, apparently you would say that Martin Luther wasn’t really a Christian because he read the Bible and believed individually even when there was no true Christian community supporting his ideas? I know you didn’t say that, but that is the natural end that your comment leads to.

    It is important to note that the gospel message is a very individualistic response to God’s call in someone’s life. Surely there is a community (known as the “church”) after one becomes saved, but you can’t tell me that if I am the only believer in Christianity in my community that I am not a Christian because there is no community around me. Communities themselves cannot be started until there is more than one person. Before you can have a church of 200, you have to have an individual. Christ called us to make disciples, not make communities. The community comes, but only after and as a result of individual conversions.

    • Gerasimos February 8, 2010 at 11:56 AM #

      My point isn’t to deny the individual but to define the individual as communal. Physical birth itself requires community. God as Trinity is, by definition, communal and we are made in God’s image. Just as babies are born through and into community so, too, are we when we are born again. We are born and raised in the Church and are accountable to it just as, in the physical world we are accountable to the communities that birthed and raised us. A big reason why modern Christianity cannot affect culture but is merely responsive to it is that we’ve tied ourselves into the cultural myth of individuality. Me, my bible and I is definitely not the model of biblical spirituality, indeed it cannot be a model of anything since it is a denial of life itself. If we begin to see how God models community through love, that communion itself constitutes God’s existence then we will see how theology is married, at it’s very core, to loving action.

    • Gerasimos February 8, 2010 at 12:45 PM #

      Daniel, I didn’t respond to your question about Martin Luther. Martin Luther still believed that the central focus of Christian life was the Eucharist, the Mass, and he had a very high view of Christ’s presence in the wine and bread. He also practiced infant baptism. He was striving to correct the errors of the Church but not from outside but from inside. I believe he made mistakes but he was trying to speak from within the Tradition. In this way he was still attempting to be accountable to his faith community as a person born and raised within it. This is a far cry from what’s going on in the church today when almost everyone has become his own pope.

  29. aniana February 19, 2010 at 3:37 AM #

    i don’t believe in what you are saying…sad to say…you don’t understand the bible at all…

    • Michael Kimpan February 26, 2010 at 12:46 AM #

      @ Aniana; I’m interested in what brings you to that conclusion…? I don’t mind that you disagree with me; in fact, I welcome the dialogue and have learned to appreciate perspectives different than my own–I’m just not sure what it is that you’re in disagreement with. Could you expand? What do I say that you don’t believe? What causes you to say, “you don’t understand the bible at all…”?

  30. John February 19, 2010 at 2:23 PM #

    Interesting thread! Michael, I understand what you are saying. I heard NT Wright (well known, brilliant theologian) tell audiences that probably 25% of what he says may not be correct, only he didn’t know what 25% it was. It takes humililty to always be open to other ideas and view points. “We see in a mirror darkly….” Understanding that helps us to engage in a community doing and understanding theology (God). Yet, doctrine (essentials only) draw boundaries that sometimes are needed to understand who Christ was and why He did what He did. Doctrines, in some sense, were and are developed in community (iron sharpens iron). But all doctrine (essentials) should support, enhance, and drive us into deeper love of God and neighbor. The Word of God is a living person, not a set of propositions.

  31. Estera Juravle February 22, 2010 at 1:50 AM #

    I am long due for a comment on this post. You commented my blog, “The Eyes of My Heart” some time ago. I had a blog post about offering love to the ones around you that you really enjoyed, so you encouraged me to read your post.

    Alright. I really loved what you have to say! Christianity is not a doctrine, but a way of life. This manner of life is expressed through love towards one another. Only God can help us love in such an imperfect world we live in! Yes, if we don’t nail this..we can’t proclaim to know anything. Everything springs up from love!

    Impressive, yet beautiful way of analyzing and thinking. God has gifted you for writing!

    Nice to meet you.

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