heretical. but biblical.

mjkimpan  —  January 26, 2010 — 89 Comments


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 gospelwe 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.