Friday, May 18, 2007

Doctrine: Why does that matter?

Many people within the church today say that doctrine does not really matter. That say that we should "love one another," and not worry about the rest of the stuff. It is all just details to them. Even the specifics of salvation are not that important. To read more on this, click here.

Others within the church take the above position, but to a more moderated degree. They agree with scriptural teachings on salvation; however, they in essence say that the rest of doctrine (defined as what we believe and practice) does not matter. To them, unity within the church far supersedes the "details" of doctrine. Unity becomes a trump card over all doctrinal disagreements after salvation.

I agree that unity within the body of Christ is crucial. After all, Jesus prayed for this in John 17. Also, this is the first topic Paul addressed in I Corinthians. It is clear that we should strive for unity within the church.

We are also told that all scripture is breathed out by God (II Timothy 3:16), is given by the Holy Spirit (II Peter 1:21), stands forever (Isaiah 40:8), and does not change (Matthew 5:18). So what do we do with scriptural teachings that are clear on doctrinal points? Do we ignore these and act as if they do not exist? Do we accept various interpretations as long as they do not violate the basics of the gospel?

Two key issues are the two ordinances given to the church by Jesus: baptism and the Lord's Supper. First let's look at baptism. If some Christians hold to infant baptism and others hold to believer's baptism, what should we do? Do we say, "It doesn't really matter because we are all saved anyway."? Or, do we search the scriptures to find out the truth? Regarding baptism, scripture always shows it to be an outward confession of inward salvation. If this is the case, should we accept infant baptism as valid? If we do, isn't this the same as ignoring scripture?

What about the Lord's Supper? Some Christians hold to transubstantiation (the elements literally become Christ's body and blood). Those who hold to this are mostly Catholics; yes, I do believe that some Catholics are headed to heaven. However, I reject transubstantiation as unbiblical. Why? Because the book of Hebrews makes it clear that Christ was sacrificed once. He will not be sacrificed again. So what do we do with this? Do we, within the same church, accept multiple interpretations of the meaning of the Lord's Supper? In the name of unity, do we ignore Hebrews?

Here is another important question: If unity is the most important issue, and therefore multiple interpretations of baptism and the Lord's Supper exist, what does the church teach new believers? What about other doctrinal issues such as the Holy Spirit, church discipline, and spiritual gifts?

If unity becomes the most important issue at hand, it forces us to ignore key doctrinal issues. However, if we do this, what we are saying is that God's word does not matter. If unity is supreme, we have to pick and choose what parts of scripture we want to talk about. We'll have to ignore those passages that teach about issues that divide some people. For example, if you accept multiple definitions of the Lord's Supper, be certain to avoid I Corinthians 11.

Possibly the most important and troubling fact is this: if unity reigns supreme, and therefore multiple interpretations of much of scripture are acceptable, this runs the danger of damaging the gospel message. How is this the case? If those within the church teach that varying interpretations are acceptable, pretty soon folks within the church will come up with varying interpretations of scripture that deals directly with the atonement. After a while, some may say that Jesus was only a good teacher, and that we must earn salvation by obeying Him. Then they will misinterpret the Sermon on the Mount.

We must avoid the slippery slope that is caused by placing such an emphasis on unity that other doctrinal matters are ignored. Let us both strive for unity and teach true biblical doctrine. We cannot afford to ignore some passages of scripture just to place an over emphasis on unity.

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