Dogmatics. Too often this word is seen as a “dirty” word. We don’t want to deal with stuffy theology books or learning about doctrine. It is my sincere belief that Christianity has unfortunately traveled two paths when dealing with Christian doctrines:
1) Christians simply don’t care about doctrine. They abandon systematic theology, and in turn abandon the soul of Christianity.
2) Christians emphasize soundness of doctrine with such zeal that they alienate and make enemies of fellow Christians. In doing so, they abandon Christ’s teaching.
I just finished reading the book Christ Among the Dragons by James Emery White, and I must say it should be required reading of all Christians. Among the wonderful points made by White throughout this work, I found the most important to be his discussion of our interactions with fellow Christians. Too often, I found myself literally in tears, either because I stood convicted by the words he wrote or because fellow Christians had wronged me in the ways he outlined. He writes concerning debates over doctrinal issues:
“Truth be told, we should have enough theological humility to admit that we may all be wrong. The greater issue is refusing to make our theological viewpoint the test of orthodoxy, the agenda for which we exist and the basis of our community… And our rhetoric isn’t helping. ” (126).
White later quotes two other theologians, John Stott and the Lutheran theologian Peter Meiderlin. Stott wrote:
“Perhaps our criterion for deciding which is which [that is, which doctrines are essential and which are matters of liberty]… should be as follows. Whenever equally biblical Christians, who are equally anxious to understand the teaching of Scripture and to submit to its authority, reach different conclusions, we should deduce that evidently Scripture is not crystal clear in this matter, and therefore we can afford to give one another liberty” (127-128).
Meiderlin said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
These powerful calls to Christian unity too often fall on deaf ears from those who adhere to either of the views I described above. Those who believe doctrines are unimportant criticize those who attempt to stress the essentials. Those who emphasize doctrinal purity too often attack fellow Christians for matters which should be of liberty.
I hope and pray for a day in which we can move past such disturbances in the body of Christ. No longer will Christians feel “second class” because they are of a different denomination. No longer will Christians abandon the Creeds of the Catholic Church (meaning the whole Church at large, not just the Roman Catholics). No longer will Christians accuse their fellows of rejecting Scripture for having different views on matters of “liberty.” No longer will Christians abandon the message of Christ in favor of ethical teaching.
We Christians are a Body. We must stick together. Divided we fall, united we stand.
I’d like to add that when we deal with our fellow man, and particularly our fellow Christian, the most important thing we should remember is that our message is Christ, and our witness is our deed. I close with another quote from White in Christ Among the Dragons:
“When we condescendingly say that our position is simply the ‘gospel,’ as if it’s not really a debate worth having, then we are being arrogant. When we make our view the litmus test of orthodoxy, or even community, we are being neither gracious nor loving. When we say that our view alone upholds God’s sovereignty or that our perspective is the only one that cares about lost people, we are not being truthful. When we exhibit a haughty smirkiness, or we so state our position that we divide churches, student ministry groups or denominations, then we are sinning.” (126-127)
White, James Emery. Christ Among the Dragons. InterVarsity Press. 2010.