Thursday, December 23, 2010

Both And, And/Or, Either Or

I have often heard people claim that doctrine is not important. The alternative then presented is relationship. I would like to suggest that this is a false and unnecessary dichotomy. It might be argued that relationship is more important than doctrine. I would yet insist that this is a false and unnecessary dichotomy. Before I proceed, I will offer a slight disclaimer. I understand the intention behind the words “doctrine is not important” (or words to this effect). However, I am stating that this is a poor and counterproductive way of communicating. We might say it is a carelessly stated doctrine. I will explain by making two points.

From a Christian perspective, the central relationship in question would be our relationship with Jesus. I completely affirm that no amount of good information (doctrine), void of this relationship with Christ produces the outcome toward which God is working. However, my first, caution regarding the dichotomy between doctrine and relationship is the close association between the person of Christ and truth. Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, states the following concerning doctrine: “In a general sense, whatever is taught. Hence, a principle or position in any science; whatever is laid down as true by an instructor or master. The doctrines of the gospel are the principles or truths taught by Christ and his apostles. The doctrines of Plato are the principles which he taught. Hence, a doctrine may be true or false; it may be a mere tenet or opinion.” Admittedly, there is such a thing as bad doctrine. Does that make doctrine bad? My point, before I comment to the point I make, is that Jesus closely associates Himself with truth and truth is too closely associated with doctrine to wage war against or cast doubt upon the importance of doctrine and all of this is intimately connected to relationship. There is no need to create tension regarding this issue and doing so will likely have a negative impact upon the relationship that is so highly valued to those who promote the idea. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the way, and the truth (aletheia), and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” (John 14:6) We are told that, “In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) There are, as well, such well known statements as “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32), “…everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock” (Matthew 7:24), “…the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty” (Matthew 13:23) and “…make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Along with the above point is the emphasis Scripture places upon doctrine (teaching). We find that the armor Paul uses to illustrate the Christians equipment for battle begins and ends with truth (Ephesians 6:14, 17). Paul tells Timothy, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching (didaskalia – doctrine, instruction); persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you." (1 Timothy 4:16) Paul speaks of those who perish because they did not receive a love of the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10). Finally, we read that, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching (didaskalia – doctrine, instruction), for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Rather discarding or devaluating doctrine, a more constructive approach would be to emphasize the difference between right and wrong, truth and falsehood and the importance of good doctrine and effective study. When doctrine and relationship are viewed as antagonistic to one another, I fear that the resulting relationships will be shallow and the Christian in question will be unequipped to persuade others of the importance of the relationship. I have heard people say that when God decided to save man, He didn’t send a tract, He sent His Son. In fact, He sent both. We have the written and preserved Word, a revelation of truth and the incarnate Word. Concerning the issue of doctrine and relationship we are looking at a “both and”, not an “either or”. Let us not play into the hand of the postmodern relativists and deconstructionists among us.

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