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Chapter 43 - Doctrine
The word 'doctrine' simply means teaching. When a Christian feels a stirring to go deeper in faith, he usually has already been exposed to various teachings (doctrines) about Christianity. Often he may suspect that what he has been told about Christianity or Christian practice may not be fully correct. It is often these suspicions that motivate a radical approach to Christianity.
It is not uncommon for someone who becomes radical to think that he has found an error in the teaching of one denomination and switch to another because he has come to think he has found the one that is 'right'. One has to remember that all have some error.
The Christian journey is one of growing in truth. Sometimes this is found in changing from one denomination to another. For example, someone raised in the Roman Catholic denomination may begin to question the efficacy of praying to Mary. He may search the bible for information about Mary and find very little and nothing that supports the thesis that she was sinless, intercedes for those who pray to her, or was anything other than a faithful woman chosen by God for a particular task. Without biblical corroboration, it is difficult to support a doctrine other than by tradition or the addition of external sources.
But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. - Matthew 15:9
Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. - Deuteronomy 4:2
The main problems with the denominational approach to Christianity is that by declaring that their distinctive doctrines are correct and others false, they enforce disunity. By maintaining the enforcement of their doctrine, they maintain a static approach to Christianity that inhibits individual growth in Christ-likeness. By rejecting all who do not 100% agree with their doctrine, a denomination rejects those who need to grow and mature and tells those who do agree that they have 'arrived' at completion and have no further need for growth.
It can be difficult for a Christian radically seeking after truth as most other Christians have parked themselves in a particular denomination. To have the opportunity to interact with other Christians, one almost has to deal with the denominational doctrinal minefield at some point.
It can be helpful to gain a perspective on doctrine in general by taking a look at one particular doctrine, baptism. Some denominations teach it is appropriate for infants and is the means by which God imparts grace to make them Christian. Others, believe that only adults should be baptized because only adults can understand what it means. Bitter and rancorous contention can exist between those who hold opposing views.
The radical Christian upon searching the scriptures might come down in favor of the adult baptism position. It can be a source of smug superiority to think one has discovered the 'right' way to view baptism. However, there is also a further consideration of whether baptism is necessary for salvation at all. Most on the adult baptism view come also to conclude that it is not an obligatory grace imparting sacrament, but an ordinance that is supposed to be followed and is not in itself a means of salvation.
However, further consideration of the subject raises some interesting questions.
For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. - 1 Corinthians 1:17
Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. - Acts 15:19-20
Paul was not sent to baptize (although he did do a few baptisms). The Jewish church in Jerusalem declared that the only restrictions to be placed on Gentile believers were the restrictions declared in Leviticus for the Gentile sojourners in Israel. This did not include circumcision or baptism.
Further complicating our understanding is that 'baptism' is not an English word, but a transliteration of the Greek baptizo (to be immersed). This word is used both to describe water immersion as well as spiritual immersion (in the Holy Spirit).
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: - Matthew 3:11
Even further confusion arises if one asks if what is called the 'great commission' was given to Israel or the church.
Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. - Mark 16:14-19
One might draw from the reference in Mark to baptism that it is essential to salvation. However, it is not included as a reason for damnation later in the passage. Also, it is not clear if what is described by baptism is water baptism or baptism by the Holy Spirit.
This consideration helps to illustrate the difficulty of trying to present doctrine as a complete package that has to be accepted or rejected. It can greatly benefit the radical Christian to maintain a category for doctrine that is defined as that which is not known and may, in this life, never be fully known.
Denominations often present their doctrine as a finished and complete package. This is often appealing because it sort of lets off the hook the Christian who would prefer to pursue other interests. The radical Christian is one drawn to dig into the bible and find out what is true. Denominations may be able to help out with the initial digging, but may be less helpful and possibly turn hostile if cherished doctrines are questioned.
A classic example of doctrinal conflict is between those who subscribe to election and those who subscribe to free will (often called Calvinism and Arminianism).
No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. - John 6:44
And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. - John 12:32
The radical Christian needs to be cautioned against picking a side. This tends towards a defensive self-righteousness that is detrimental to the love which we are to have towards other Christians. It can be better to consider how both could be true or how both could be explained all the while remembering that there is much that we are not going to be able to understand.
Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into. - 1 Peter 1:12
Even the angels have a desire and curiosity to learn. It should not be surprising that there would be limits on what we can learn or understand. The radical Christian is cautioned to avoid the common trap of pursuing knowledge at the expense of love. This is one of the quickest way to achieve self-righteousness.
Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth. - 1 Corinthians 8:1
The radical Christian can benefit from evaluating and reevaluating the teachings he has accepted to make sure that he is growing both in truth and love. As his understanding and nearness to God increases, he may wish to modify some of the teachings he has previously accepted. This is to be expected when growth and maturity occur.
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