Do you ever wonder what it must be like for a new Christian to process the doctrinal battles that are fought within the Church?
Considered what a new believer faces, as he or she tries to discern the truth of who Jesus is and how one walks out a life with Him, all in the midst of the doctrinal and theological carnage that comes with discussions of faith in the Church.
It is maddening.
Calvinist versus Arminian. Pre-trib rapture versus post-trib rapture versus no rapture at all. Catholic versus Lutheran versus Methodist versus Baptist. And what is an “ND” church anyway? Is the Genesis creation account literal or allegorical? Evolution or intelligent design? Is faith alone sufficient, or am I expected to do something to be saved? What is heaven, and why should I want to be there? What do you mean that only the “elect” can be saved? Am I “not of this world”, or was I made for this world? Does my salvation matter today, or is it only for after I’m dead? Should I love my neighbor in community, or should I shun him because he’s living in sin? Do I have the gifts from the Holy Spirit, or not? Am I saved without baptism, or is God sending me to hell because I wasn’t submerged?
I could go on and on. Honestly, I imagine that Jesus must feel like pulling His beard out, one hair at a time, over the divisions we create in His Church.
And for new Christians and persons seeking the truth, making sense of it all is nearly impossible: not only are we bombarded with fuzzy doctrine and flawed theology from our unschooled neighbors and our co-workers and from the debate taking place at the table next to us in the coffee shop, but even the “smart people” can’t agree on what we should believe.
Spend a couple of hours on YouTube; you’ll see what the seeker of truth deals with. Pastors from the biggest churches in the land are calling each other deceivers and false teachers over doctrine. The most respected professors from our greatest universities and seminaries are calling each other apostate and blasphemous in connection with their interpretations of Scripture and Biblical writings. Men and women are getting fired from their jobs or run out of their churches on a rail for the positions they espouse.
And the denominations of the faith — they are identifying and labeling each other as cults, as non-believers, and as “the lost”. . .setting themselves and no one else on the right side of Jesus’ story of the sheep and the goats.
What is a believer supposed to do? If the “leaders” of the Church can’t figure this stuff out and agree among themselves, how in the world are we supposed to figure out how to walk in faith with Jesus?
It’s a good question. Unfortunately, there are not many in the Christian world who are offering meaningful answers.
Instead, we get the same response from every position and on every front: “Just listen to me. I’ve got it right, and the rest have got it wrong.”
Now, I’m not suggesting here that doctrine should be ignored. There are volumes and volumes written about the importance of doctrine in the life of the Church. Run a quick Google search on “why doctrine matters” or “the importance of doctrine”, and you will find article after article, blog after blog, opinion after opinion, talking about the essential nature of doctrine in authentic Christian faith.
Most, however, miss the point.
The point is not whether doctrine matters; the point is which doctrine matters.
- Who is Jesus?
- Who am I to Jesus?
- Why should Jesus be important to me?
- How does the death and resurrection of Jesus involve me? Affect me?
- Who made me? And for what purpose was I made?
These are essentials. Obviously, there are others.
The entire universe of essentials, however, must have at least two common elements that we lean into and depend upon:
First, a doctrinal essential is one that helps me to know Jesus and to walk with Him in my life.
Second, a doctrinal essential contributes to my understanding of and my capacity to live within the two primary commands given to us by Jesus: to love God, our Creator, with everything we have and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
If an aspect of doctrine is not contributing to one or both of these elements of our journey of faith, then it is not important enough to divide us. I would suggest that neither of these elements are present in most of the contentious doctrinal debates we endure within the family of the Church. Far too many of the issues that divide us are non-essentials. We fight over nothing.
I make two points here:
- We pay far too much attention to aspects of doctrine and theology that add little value — no meaningful positive — to the struggle most new believers face. The voices of the Church — those with the platforms and the microphones — need to reacquaint themselves with what really matters for the man or woman who just needs help from Jesus to get through another day.
- We need to conduct our discussions about Scripture, doctrine and theology, knowing always that we are watched by those who evaluate the truth of our faith not only by the substance of the arguments we put forth, but also, and often more importantly, by the way we conduct ourselves in the context of the conversation.
Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 (ESV)
Where is our love, when we fight and divide over nothing?