Friday, January 28, 2005

Are there dangers in doctrinal purity?

Hapax Legomena posts thoughts on doctrinal purity. He makes a popular argument for ecumenism. Here We Stand is singled out as a blog that takes it to the extreme. I would have to agree with him, however I would argue whether exhuberance about seeking doctrinal purity is a always a bad thing. Also, I would add that many Christians, including confessional Lutherans, believe that any false doctrine corrupts the Gospel. We believe this is the basis for the many warnings in scripture against false teachings. I personally believe that the reason for so many denominations is NOT because of the failings of man but because brave souls stood up to false teachers and broke away.

I’m not actually against doctrinal purity. I am against making it the supreme concern of the Church to the exclusion of all other aspects of the Church’s life and to the detriment of the church’s unity. I bring this up in reaction to several posts I’ve read lately around the blogosphere that have advocated, directly or indirectly, a kind of theological absolutism. It goes something like this...

I did remind Hapax that Here We Stand is Keep is written and frequented by confessional Lutheran thelogians or would-be theologians and they often discuss things that are above many people’s head. I do read it as it updates, ponder their discussions and comment when I feel I can. I would probably recommend Confessing Evangelical as a good alternative. It's written with great forethought, but in a more gentle way. Hapax Legomena ends his post with an admonition:

I am called to live with sinners around me, and to love them while recognizing their sin. In the same way I have to live with the theological sinners around me, not supporting sin or false doctrine, but recognizing that the grace of God covers even this. And above all else, I have to recognize that I am a sinner, that my own theology isn’t perfect, and that I must come humbly and boldly to Jesus for grace.

I don't like how he started out his conclusion, separating Christians from sinners and I was going to remind him that we are all sinners in God's eyes and we remain sinners the rest of our lives. But he ended well with a statement we should all make. Amen to that, Hapax Legomena. You don't even have to come to Jesus; He already came to us. That is the gospel. The Good News!


Chaz said...

It's always dangerous to pit one doctrine against another. It is a tool used primarily by those that want you to give in on something.

"If you want to be an outreach oriented congregation, you won't worry about incessant doctrinal purification."

It's a false dichotomy.

Anonymous said...

I'm not against doctrine or the pursuit of purity therein--the biggest target of my post (which may not have been clear) was actually the attitude of "fellowship" that makes long and strident lists of doctrinal stances that must be confessed in order for mutual recognition. IMHO these things actually hinder the doctrinal strength of the church, because rather than sit down and sort things out, we can just part ways at the first opportunity. For example, I despise the purpose-driven plague sweeping over the country, but I wouldn't break communion with Warren & Co. because their problems are not at the heart of the Gospel itself, and I will never have any hope of affecting things for the better if I just packed up and left. I don't support ecumenism because doctrine is unimportant, but because it is *so* important and we must remain united in order to be able to resolve anything.

TKls2myhrt said...

I used to think the exact same things, that is was harmful to critcize each other over doctrinal differences and that ecumenism was a good thing. I told myself (and was taught, I'm sure) that it represented true diversity in the Christian body. I believed that for 20 years. Eventually, though, I started to notice differences among Christians that I couldn't resolve in my mind. For example, one Christian would say that you must pray to receive the Holy Spirit. Another, with just as deep of faith, would claim that it is impossible to accept Christ without the work of the Holy Spirit already working in your heart. How can both be true? They can't. I even read in Charisma magazine last fall (the election issue) that there are several levels of being filled with the Holy Spirit - seven, I think - in a very lame attempt to marry the two concepts. Or take KTIS radio, very big in Minnesota. It used to be, long ago, that Catholics were never part of the programming or mentioned as Christians. But then in recent years, Catholics began to be mentioned as fellow Christians and spoke on the radio. Why the change? Yet another example is the doctrinal problems I found in CCM music. Each song can espouse completely different doctrine, sometimes bordering on the ridiculous. Lastly, my lutheran-in-name-only church began to switch to Baptist theology and curriculum, because of evangelicals joining our church. After hundreds of years of claiming God's grace pure and simple, we were now teaching people that you had to accept Jesus into your heart as a deliberate act. Why the change in doctrine? Did doctrine matter anymore? I would sit in my church and look around me and think, "I don't even know what ther person sitting next to me believes anymore." Were they gay? Were they works-oriented? Were they atheist? Were they confessional Lutheran? There was too much ecumenism and too much diversity. There's go to be some clear boundaries - we believe this and we reject this. That is the view from this 44 year old body. Thanks for stopping by! I can tell you are really thinking about these issues. That's a good thing!

Chaz said...

The second comment illustrates my point. What is this "at the Heart of the Gospel" / "Not at the Heart of the Gospel business" anyway?

Those of us who take doctrine seriously would not cut off conversation because of disagreements. Rather, we would continue the conversation, confessing the truth in love, hoping that the other will come to confess that same truth.

What would really end the conversation is deciding that the truth on these points doesn't matter. No need to continue the conversation at this point because there is functional agreement.

As for Warren and company, their error lies at the very heart of the Gospel. They spit on the Sacraments and do not recognize them as means of grace. They make the material principle of Christian theology giving glory to God rather than the receiving of the forgiveness of sins. These false teachings destroy the Gospel utterly.

TKls2myhrt said...

"What would really end the conversation is deciding that the truth on these points doesn't matter."

That has been the response that I get frequently and it really puzzles me. Excuse my poor comparison (it's early in the morning), but to me it's like someone is saying, "You didn't get mugged, they just hugged you and borrowed a few things." I got mugged when several pastors of different denominations told that baptism cannot plant the seed of faith in my children. Thankfully, one old ELCA pastor kept bugging me and teaching me what God's word really said. He kept reminding me that all can come to the saving waters of baptism and that families should bring their children there.

Chaz said...

I'm not sure how you are confused, exactly, so ask again in a slightly different way if this doesn't help. : )

What I mean is that if you were in dialogue with another confession, the big conversation stopper would be, "You know, this really isn't essential to the Gospel." It's the whole agree to disagree business.

What has happened in that case is that one side has been confirmed in their heterodoxy, and one (if one of the two sides is orthodox) has given up on the truth.

Much much better to continue the conversation forever than for the above to happen. We continue to confess the truth, even if it seems like no one is listening.

Bob Waters said...

While WELS or the ELS would limit even prayer fellowship, the position the LCMS has held in recent years is simply common sense. It's profoundly dishonest for Christians to share a Sacramental meal whose meaning they do not agree on, and being exposed to ministers who teach falsely isn't exactly healthy, either.

I think Luther was right here: if we sin, we have doctrine to tell us where to find forgiveness. But if we lose sound doctrine, we are utterly lost. The mish-mash of the Gospel current in what is laughably called American "Evangelicalism" today is a prime example.

Bob Waters said...

Oh- and by the way- this "we're all sinners, and our theology is imperfect" thing is a cop-out. The issue isn't our theology. It's Scripture's teaching.

CPA said...

JS writes "I wouldn't break communion with Warren & Co. because their problems are not at the heart of the Gospel itself" to which Chaz replies that for Warren & Co. "their error lies at the very heart of the Gospel. They spit on the Sacraments and do not recognize them as means of grace."

There are two different things being confused here. Remember, long before Warren and other revivalist churches discovered "purpose", they did not believe in the sacraments. On the other hand traditional Calvinist Baptists could (and I would guess many do) reject Warren as watered-down, untheological pablum that diminishes human depravity.

I would say this--if there is a church that is otherwise sound on the fundamentals (i.e. justification by faith alone, the sufficiency and authority of Scripture, the Real Presence, and Baptismal Regeneration) that is using Rick Warren, I would respond patiently by influencing them to believe that this could subvert what they believe, and would definitely not break off fellowship. But if a church deonomination rejects one of these four fundamentals, they can anathemize Rick Warren till their blue in the face, but I still cannot commune at their altar.

Bob Waters said...

But once again, the question arises: Which of the teachings of the Word are optional, and not fundamental?

I'd draw the line at quia subscription to the Book of Concord, of course...and I'm sorry, but if a church is doing Warren's book, something is very, very wrong with its understanding of sanctification.