Continued from previous article “Enough of the Talking”.
“At this juncture do I stubbornly cling to my doctrine, or do I recognize that I may not have had God quite as “figured out” as I thought I did?”
How do we know what we believe? Where do we get the doctrine we cling to so tightly? Is it merely through the transfer of information, or life experience? Should it be both? I wonder if one of the reasons we are in the “pickle” we are in as the American Church is because we have successfully indoctrinated people with information about what they should believe about this or that. But, they have no idea why they believe such things, or what it looks like lived out. It gets messy when our everyday life experiences begin to challenge our knowledge of doctrine. No longer can the realities of life be explained away by well thought out doctrinal statements, or theologies surrounding this or that issue. This is when the rubber meets the road, and following Jesus starts to get adventurously crazy…
It is interesting how little information Jesus shares with many of the individuals in the Gospels who have life transforming experiences upon encountering Him. Sure, there are parables about farming, money, etc. that He shares with the disciples. He says a bit to the Pharisees while rebuking them. He is caught from time to time preaching to large crowds about things they do not seem to understand. But wait…can you think of any stories where Jesus encountered individuals and said what could be written in one to two sentences on paper? How about, “I am willing, be clean! See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matt. 8:3-4) Or, “Take heart son, your sins are forgiven.” (The paralytic in Matt. 9:2) Or, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” (Matt. 9:24) He then raised her from the dead without saying anything. He just grabs her by the hand, and she gets up. He then heals a blind man and mute man by asking if they believe He can. They say they do believe; He touched them, and said, “according to your faith will it be done to you.” All He says after that is for them not to tell anyone it happened. Interesting. These stories litter the Gospels. We could go on and on…
The point is that Jesus did not preach a sermon, give them a doctrine, lead them in a prayer, or give them books to read. These people experienced the power of God through the person of Jesus. Their doctrine would be shaped for the rest of their lives as the Holy Spirit leads them. They had not known much other than the fact that they believed Jesus was God. He healed the sick, and His disciples did they same while telling people to repent of their sins, for the kingdom was near. That’s what they knew. I can imagine most of what Jesus did made most Jews of that time very uncomfortable. Think about it…
On the evening of the last supper, or Jewish Seder, Jesus took the cup that was reserved for the prophet Elijah who was to return. Growing up Jews never touched this cup. At the end of the supper they would dispose of it and “wait until next year”. The fact that Jesus not only picked up the cup, but also then drank from it was blasphemous to the Jews! It challenged everything they had once thought, or the doctrine they had so tightly clung to. This doctrine was interpreted from the Torah, or the first five books of our Bible. All of a sudden what these disciples had believed so strongly in their heads was being challenged by what was happening in front of their eyes. Their experience with Jesus changed who they were into who they became, and were becoming. The act of the disciples drinking from the cup now meant they truly believed He was the one they had been waiting for. (As if the many healings and miracles had not been enough) That evening the doctrine or theology of these 11 men changed forever. (To us the doctrine was fulfilled. To these Jewish men it was changed. They no longer claimed the same “doctrine” as other Jews who were still waiting on the Messiah)
Perhaps some modern theologies, or doctrines might parallel this story. This is not an argument for or against Cessationism, but one of many examples of how our doctrine might be challenged by real-life experience. If I claim to be a cessationist (based upon how I was indoctrinated) most of my Christian life, but then go overseas, or right here in the states and witness countless physical healings or even resurrections then “something’s gotta give”. At this juncture do I stubbornly cling to my theology (which was most likely based upon the scriptural interpretation of a dead guy, or particular stream of denominations), or do I recognize that I may not have had God quite as “figured out” as I thought I did, or thought they did?
Again, my pursuit through this article is not to challenge having sound doctrine, but to challenge what that sound doctrine is, where it comes from, how we allow it to indoctrinate us, and which doctrines require a much looser grip. I am not suggesting that our experiences define our doctrine, and what we see as truth from scripture. However, our experiences as we pursue Jesus should shape and mold our doctrine, how we interpret truth in scripture, and how tightly we cling to “negotiables”.
Perhaps this discussion will be “easier to swallow” if we recognize that much of what we think is our doctrine can be whittled down to mere tradition, or ritual. Most of us do not realize how we have allowed that tradition to become a major part of our doctrine when it was never meant to be. This is scary and dangerous. At the same time all of our doctrines have bits that are just plain perverted, and not in alignment with the Kingdom or heart of God.
How about the issue of ecclesiology, or more plainly put, “church”? Sometimes our doctrine is more defined by our actions than what we say we believe. For example, most Bible believing Christians would say that the church is not a place, but the people of God. However, their actions as a person of God have become defined by going to church once each week. Or, most of us claim to believe, and desire to pursue living out the Great Commission. This includes the act of Baptizing new believers, and distributing communion. Most people who claim Jesus as Lord have never baptized a new believer into the kingdom, or intentionally administered communion. Again, our actions prove otherwise. We may not know it, but these things define parts of our doctrine, or theology.
Let’s close with a few more practical examples of how this might play out in real life. Perhaps you were raised in a “camp” that viewed alcohol as “evil”. The truth you extracted from scripture was read through that lens. You could preach a sermon on why alcohol is evil, and combat anyone else‘s attempts to reason with you. Then one day you met a dear saint, and warrior for the Kingdom who you learned likes to enjoy alcoholic beverages on a regular basis. Uh-oh. You are left with two choices. Either you judge your new friend who has an abundance of Kingdom fruit in their life, or you release the tight grip you have on your “theology/doctrine of alcohol”. You might come to a much simpler conclusion that your pursuit against alcohol became quite idolatrous, and completely negated Christ’s work on the cross.
We have already discussed an example regarding the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. Perhaps we will take it a step further, and go down the same road we just took the example of alcohol. If the gifts are no more, but you meet a dear brother in Christ who speaks in tongues or prophesies you are, once again, left with two choices…
Throughout my journey following Jesus I sometimes believe the lie that I have “it” figured out. It is those moments that I cease to learn, be sanctified, and play my role in the Kingdom of Heaven coming to earth. If I operate as if my memorized set of beliefs dictates the things I do, or the things I remove myself far from I miss out on experiencing Jesus in the various ways He desires to interact with me as His child. May we remember some powerful words spoken by Jesus in response to the disciples arguing about who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3-4)
Kids do not have a well-thought out and eloquent explanation for everything they believe and why. They have great faith, which grows and changes as that faith carries them into new adventures with Jesus. I doubt you would ever hear a kid arguing doctrine with anyone. They are humble. They are students. Jesus says we should “change and become like them, or we will never enter the kingdom.” May we humble ourselves as children, cling to Jesus as Savior through His work on the cross, and be slow to think we have God figured out. I wonder sometimes how much of our doctrine to which God might say, “wow, that’s not at all what I meant”, or “how did you come up with that”? Perhaps He would just say, “You made it so complicated. I simply wanted you to come to me as a child, and let me lead you by my Holy Spirit…”