Thursday, January 26, 2012

Doctrinal Purity

I've recently been engaged in conversations with people who have expressed concerns about preserving doctrinal purity within their organizations (denominations as well as independent ministries). Some have even gone so far as to express concern about participating in community events with churches whose doctrines differ from their own. Many times the individuals in the local church are confused because they want to serve with believers from other congregations, but they are told by their leaders that they can't on the grounds of doctrinal concerns. This is not new. I've had dialogue for many years with those who take this position.

Before anyone says, "You have to stand for something or you don't stand for anything," let me state that I take my denomination's doctrinal distinctives very seriously. I am a Wesleyan because I believe that the Wesleyan-Arminian distinctives are both biblical and liberating. I do not look down on those who embrace a different theological background. I simply love the doctrine of my church.

That being said, I have to address the real issue: What's really important? When all is said and done, we who are Christ-followers will stand before the Lord Himself and be judged, not according to the organization or doctrine we embraced, but on what we did with Jesus. Did we receive the free gift of eternal life from the Savior? Or did we attempt to live a good life with the hopes that would be enough? I recently officiated a funeral for a man I barely knew and I have no idea of his stand with Christ. All I could do as I led the service was to share with his family and friends how they could know Jesus and why they needed to know Him. I didn't talk about my church; I talked about Jesus. I tried to offer them the hope of Jesus.

So what's my point? It's all about Jesus. The church at Corinth had a bunch of issues, rooted in their lack of understanding of salvation. In the first chapter of his letter to the believers there, Paul addressed their divisions: they were arguing over who it was they were following and who baptized who - I would call these doctrinal divisions within the Church. Paul's answer? "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1:18)

Let's not be divided over little things. All believers everywhere are one Church! I know the Wesleyans won't have a private corner in glory, and I'm sure your denomination or independent church won't either. Embrace your distinctives - they are what make you unique. But embrace other Christ-followers even more. Then the world will know real faith. Jesus said, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34-35).



  1. The question that the more doctrinal focused person will ask is how would people define Jesus and grace? In the epistles, that's seems to be the problem Paul addresses. It was also Paul that warns about following people preaching another gospel than the one of grace in Galatians. He also warns about building on a different foundation than Jesus in 1 Cor 3 and in 1 Cor 4, he says to Timothy "14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 17 That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church." He wanted unity through teaching Doctrine and not unity for the sake of unity. The Corinthians seemed also to be too accepting of people in 1 Corinthians 5 who by their actions aren't walking in step with the Gospel repeatedly. So there is always going to be tension there but again it was based upon his doctrine of who is Christ and the teaching of it. Even the passage you mention in John 13, it was after Jesus taught Peter a lesson about himself.

    I agree we need to talk about Jesus but the right Jesus. Muslims, Mormons and JW's all define Jesus differently. For many the question is which is worst, segmenting or blaspheming? They will error on the side of segmenting as a result to keep from blaspheming.

    We need to talk about doctrine more in order to unite. Too many are afraid because they think it divides. If we all believe in Jesus, let's discuss what that means and not assume the worst in others.I would agree we need less finger pointing and ill will between the sects. But it has been less to do about doctrine and more to do with the hart you mentioned in 1 Cor of exulting a name of Christ.

  2. I do not disagree with the need to be doctrinally sound, especially when it comes to Jesus Christ, salvation, and eternal life. I also agree that we must talk about the right Jesus. I also have no problem with discussing doctrine so that we may better understand each other and in that understanding have a better sense of unity.

    My concern is with those who use doctrine to divide. I had an experience several years ago when we were hosting a community concert in the park. Constituents of one church in the community were forbidden to attend for fear that the doctrine of the group might not be pure. When I discussed it with the pastor, he took a hard line stance, letting me know that his doctrine was better than mine. I felt sorry for him and for his people. We can fellowship beyond our doctrinal differences. We better get used to it here. I think some who consider themselves purists will be surprised when they see others in heaven (of course, it won't be an issue anyway due to the transformation of the resurrection).

    One final point I will make: The doctrine taught by the apostles was focused more on Jesus than on many of the side issues we focus on these days. In fact, Paul's letters were never meant to be doctrinal statements (with the possible exception of Romans). They were messages filled with truth that yes, became doctrine for the church. The intent of those writings? To help people become more faithful followers of Jesus. Jesus' call for unity in Him is so simple: "I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:23). I love that prayer!