Doctrine v. Love

Okay, well, going entirely off memory, as the notes I took Sunday seem to have disappeared.  Reminder to self – put a pen in each of your project bags.

Pastor C spoke this weekend about the pastoral epistles (Letters to Timothy and Titus), and the importance in the church of doctrine.  Interestingly, much of this seemed to address where evangelical churches define “doctrine” in opposition to those churches that are all inclusive, focused on how one feels and “love” as opposed to what is defined as right.

Now, on the one hand, I know that he’s not discounting Christ’s commandments, because a more loving group of people you’ll never find.  They also believe that loving someone includes helping them into a right relationship with God, and that their actions reflect with love any criticism or rebukes that may be necessary.

Baha’is have the same concept:  To be silent concerning the faults of others, to pray for them, and to help them, through kindness, to correct their faults.”

So, I think the question then turns to questions of where doctrine comes into play.  What makes an “issue” a doctrinal question as opposed to something that, when fit into its historical context, we have discarded as a society and a religion (slavery comes to mind)?

As Americans, I think we all take to heart the concept that “God created all men equal”, and yet, that is not a thought that has been historically acted upon.  Those with a higher position in society would never consider themselves the equal of a merchant or slave.  And interestingly, Christ treated people differently, often elevating and preparing those of lower stature for the greater reward in heaven.  At the same time, looking in the Gospels, Christ also focused strictly on the Jews initially, only later beginning to accept the idea that He was teaching the gentiles as well.  That, of course, is as we know it through the Gospels, so it’s quite possible that it was actually the writers who didn’t initially accept that Christ was here for anything other than the Jews.  Interesting, and separate, topic. 🙂

So, “doctrine” is a set of beliefs held and taught by a particular group (the church in this case).  Interestingly, the new Presiding Bishop for the Episcopal Church (Michael Curry) recently addressed the question of doctrinal clashes within the Episcopal Church itself.  He stated that doctrinal questions had been around since Peter and Paul went at it way back when – which does not excuse us from doing the work that Christ set for us to do.  We have some disagreements – and every family does.

Christianity has taken those disagreements, and made them into a wide variety of denominations – 30,000 to 40,000 at best guess (See this article for some clarification), that can be lumped into six major blocs (Independents, Protestants, “Marginals”, Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Anglicans).  Some of the differences are as complex as who can lead, who can marry, transubstantiation/presence of/symbolism of the Eucharist, speaking in tongues, praying with intermediaries and day of the Sabbath; while some are as simple as we don’t like your personality, so we’re starting our own church and holding services earlier than yours.

So those issues of “doctrine” can be important – but my question is, are they more important than the commandment of Christ to love?  Is judgment of another person – something which, last I checked, is reserved to the Divine – more important than figuring out how Christ would have treated someone, and then attempting to emulate that?

I think that latter is actually what the Episcopal Church is trying to do.  But I think that questions of doctrine can get in the way of trying to be the best follower of Christ we can be.  And in the long run, I think following Christ is the important part.

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