Tuesday, January 24, 2006

There Must Be a Line Around Here Somewhere!

Where to divide, and where to Unite

A Semi-confessional Essay

This post has its genesis months ago, when Phil Johnson was talking about the fundamentals of the faith, and it resurfaced this weekend in our men's group, when I asked our pastor "Where was the true church during the Middle Ages?" I'm still reeling from his answer.

He said that there was remnant there, one that was faithful despite imperfect doctrine. We aren't saved by perfect doctrine--we're saved by our relationship with our Savior. The point of doctrine isn't to save us, it's to help us understand more fully all that's been revealed to us.

He's right. If perfect doctrine was the entrance exam into heaven, it would be a lonely place indeed. I couldn't make it. . .and neither could you.

The flip-side of this is even more perilous. Consider the demons, says James. They know Christ, and shudder. They have a pretty solid understanding of doctrine, but it does them no good. Know anyone like that?

Being doctrinally right is a zero-sum game. That is, if I'm right, then someone else is wrong. And lets face it, we all think we're right, because if we didn't, we would change. But if I'm right, that means that you Charismatic Arminian Purpose-Driven Paedobaptists are wrong (and, well, vice-versa).

But incorrect doctrine is not an automatic indicator that one is not saved. Has your theology changed since you were saved? Mine sure has. It has changed dramatically just in the last three years or so. So theology isn't a static thing--it grows and develops. How much theology do we really need to be saved? Well, if little children can be saved, perhaps not as much as we might think.

None of this is to discount good and right theology, but merely to acknowledge that theology is never an end to itself, but a means to the end of knowing God better.

So back to the main point: I know there are times when we need to distance ourselves from others. And I'm fine with dividing--when I know where the line is. But at some point, as I'm crawling along the path, I've got to quit kicking the guy who's crawling next to me--we've got to agree to disagree about certain points of theology and help one another to our feet--so we can take the good news of the Gospel out to the world. You and I need to look at that brother or sister who has an immature faith and say,"God loves you, and so do I." I don't want cheap unity. But I sure would like to know where that line is, so I don't spend all my time dividing from anyone who doesn't believe just like me.

One final thought. Blogs by their very nature traffic in ideas. But it's hard to love through a blog. Our blog relationships tend to be intellectual, but our love can be expressed best in the local body. (Thanks to Bryan for pointing this out.)

01/28/06 Update

Cent stopped by on Thursday to leave this message:
... Gumm's gone soft. Must alert JIBBS and Pyro before he gets to them ...

What he may not know about is his own culpability in this alleged "softness." Or has he forgotten about this little blurb, which I copied DI-rectly from his website? (which belongs up there in the first paragraph on the "genesis of this post"...):

* Doug Wilson - some people will find me mad for taking Pastor Wilson out of the nether-depths of Joshua 12:1, but so be it. The differences I have with his theological positions do not blind me to the fact that this fellow has a great apologetic against post-modernism, pride, jealousy, wonkery, prudishness, glummery and frowny-faced "Christian" soldiers. I don't agree with him about everything, but I agree with him about our precious savior, Jesus Christ. After that, we can work out the details.


Kim said...

Matt, your experience is very similar to mine. My theology has changed a lot in the past four years. And I particularly liked this comment:

I know there are times when we need to distance ourselves from others.

This is something else I have been learning.

Good post to start the day and get my fuzy anti-caffeinated brain working.

Hemsch said...

Matt we talked about this all the way back in college as we both came from Arizona which does'nt really have the same doctrine as the south does so when you went to a southern college things were alot different. You had told me it wasn't a great idea to talk about doctrine there because all it caused was frustration between friends that wasn't necessary. One of your groomsmen said that in his seminary that all sickness was caused bt sin. We at the time both disagreed, though we didn't say it out in the open. Just because we disagreed about the origin of sickness doesn't mean we thought he wasn't going to heaven, so it really wan't important to argue about. I know my doctrine as well has changed alot as well.

On a different note it will be interesting to see what percentage of people from different time era's will be in heaven compared to others (i.e. how many people from the dark ages made it in)

Charles Sebold said...

Excellent point.

I am one person who the Lord took from wrong doctrine to sound doctrine, and only then did He actually make plain the work of regeneration in my life. My testimony is very weird, I am learning, in becoming doctrinally sound, and only then discovering that I was stalking Christ rather than actually having a relationship with Him.

Shameless plug: I'm telling this story in my testimony series on my blog, which I noticed that you recently blogrolled, Matt, and thanks very much for that. I love the role that doctrine seems to be playing in your life, as expressed here.

Rob said...

Have you ever considered the following? 1 Cor. 11:18 and 19
18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, [3] 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.


Gummby said...

I think about the conversation we had with Derek often. It makes me sad in a lot of ways, because I think of all the people who are suffering needlessly, thinking they are sick because of their sin. There is sickness that comes from sin, but not all of it.

I would say I've changed somewhat from that other conversation. I am more willing to talk about what I believe. Part of that is that I understand better what I believe, and part is that I see a real importance in having good theology, good doctrine.

But as I was trying to state here, it's important to think about who we shouldn't link up with, because of aberrant theology. But it is just as important to think about who we should link up with, despite our differences, for the greater good of the Gospel.

Gummby said...

Charlie--I've got a plug for you in the hopper. Should see it later on this week.

BugBlaster said...

This was a good post, Matt. The deepest "correct" theology that has ever been formulated by the smartest people that ever lived must look at best quaint from on high. I believe that God is delighted as we delve deeper into the truth, but I suspect he is grieved when we latch onto our own "correct" doctrine and pooh pooh any other views. Sounding pretty ecumenical, but don't mean to. It's just that I am so often tempted to think that I understand the mind of God when in reality I don't have a clue.

centuri0n said...

... Gumm's gone soft. Must alert JIBBS and Pyro before he gets to them ...

...No! Not the Little Rock Ninjas! ARRRGGHHH! ...

The Mains said...


centuri0n said...

Was that "Amen" for Gummby going soft or for noticing that Gummby's gone soft?

Your pastor is right about the Medieval period and all of history: it is only the remnant that was saved. I would then ask him this: was the remnant active in the Medieval period and therefore visible, or were they obscured by something else -- their own faults, the faults of others, etc. -- and therefore invisible or hidden? You asked the right question: you just didn't follow it up.

That is what you get for being a sidekick-in-training, Matt: you get softened up. We do meat with a hammer to soften it up. What shall we use on Gumm? :-)

The Mains said...

The "Amen" was for the original post...

As in "Amen...way to go soft".

"Gummby" - I'll see you at Ironmen tomorrow.

"As a hammer softens meat."
- Proverbs 27:17 from "The Gist", a new paraphrase from FityCent-uri0n Publishing


Gummby said...

I prefer to think of myself as a turtle: hard on the top but soft underneath, don't like to stick my neck out too far, and I'm slow, but I eventually get there.