Friday, March 03, 2006

Denominational Distinctives and Doctrine

My comments occasionally provoke a kerfuffle. That's okay - I expect it from time to time especially on a sensitive theme such as theology. Recent discussion regarding my view of a proposed change in the doctrinal statement of my fellowship has been intense at times both on and off my blog, but not quite to the kerfuffle level. At least not yet. So let me try again to get feathers flapping.

Just this morning, the newspaper greeted me with the story of Episcopalian churches pulling out from under the authority of U.S. bishops because of their liberal theology. They desire to place themselves under the authority of Anglican bishops in Africa who reflect more conservative doctrine especially in terms of sexual morality. The U.S. bishops resent that (funny, as they're the ones who provoked it) and are making moves to take the church property and defrock the local priests who oppose their pro-gay views. Other denominations are haggling over this issue, which really ought to be a no-brainer given you still think the Bible holds any authority. Oh, yeah. I forgot. That's another battle.

I also noted with interest a story from the Associated Press talking about the Gospel of Judas, an ancient document in Egypt. Extra biblical with gnostic origins, I am sure this will eventually make the rounds of those who think the early church conspired to keep gnostic texts out of the canon.

How does this lead into my main musing here on denominational distinctives and doctrine? Let me ask a few questions. What is worth fighting for? Suppose your denomination is known for its stance on eschatology. What if your pastor or some in your membership deny the Second Coming? What if they don't deny the Second Coming, but merely think it happened in 70 A.D? Is that worth a row?

What if your denomination is known for a male-only pastorate? Suppose some push to allow ordination of women. Is that worth a theological Code Duello?

What if your denomination is historically opposed to paedo-baptism and a few renegade pastors want to introduce it. What if your denomination historically approves of paedo-baptism and a few renegade pastors want to stop it? Is that worth selling tickets to Thestlemania III?

Ideally, all of us should strive for Semper Reformanda. All of us ought to seek a CLOSER walk with the Lord and CLOSER adherence to His Word. Any changes in our positions on things ought to reflect getting nearer to Scriptural faithfulness, not further away. Jesus does indeed want His children to be one in Him. However...

Scripture also makes it plain (in Corinthians) that sometimes divisions are necessary so that those who are approved will stand out. Denominations have doctrinal positions and distinctives for a reason. I am not suggesting that really frivolous things should cause ruptures (although they do). But some things are worth holding on to and fighting for. And yes, we will probably differ on what those things are. Some make the case that battling for a doctrinal statement or doctrinal distinctives causes disunity. Unity is supposed to be around truth. While there can be real disunity, sometimes I think it is exaggerated.

Many believers I have known through the years attend different churches and denominations. We don't agree on everything but the real essentials necessary for salvation. On the surface it looks like disunity, but we enjoy sweet fellowship with one another when we are together. We unite when necessary on common causes. We regard one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet, there are points of doctrine and practice in which we differ, and that causes us to seek out like-minded people for our main worship, teaching and fellowship. This is a far cry from being hyper-fundamentalists and separatists who don't consider other believers even saved. Jesus wants us to be one, and we are in our hearts for the most part. We'll be one in toto at His return when we come to the clear understanding that His presence will bring. Until then, we will have differences and sometimes that will mean a fight. Sometimes they will be minor enough to overlook. Other times, the differences are such that you must put your hand over your mouth and walk out the door.

One thing I hope for myself and for others is that we walk in integrity. If I can no longer in good conscience believe my fellowship's doctrinal statement, it is time to move on. For example, let's say I come to the belief that Jesus is not God the Son. Do I murmur and work behind the scenes to whittle away at the belief so my fellowship accommodates my belief? Or is the right thing to move on and join the Unitarians?

See what I mean?

**** - Sola's note for the record...I do believe in the deity of Christ. Totally. I know I shouldn't have had to say that, but I can well imagine some mischievious individual going around..."hey, Solameanie denies the deity of Christ." No, dimwit...I did not. It was a rhetorical point for discussion's sake. If you don't know what a rhetorical point is, look it up..provided you can read a dictionary or an encyclopedia.

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