10th May, 2008

Doing Doctrine

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:19-27.

I love to read and study God’s word. It is amazing. It is alive. It is active. It penetrates me. Hebrews 4:12. Everytime I read it, no matter how many times I’ve read it before, God reveals more of Himself to me. It is never a book that I put on my shelf and say “I’ve read that one.” It begs to be read, and when I don’t read it I feel like life is taken from me. I can’t imagine any other book that I would want to read over and over again. It’s not like anyone picks up War and Peace and reads from it weekly, let alone daily.

Many today want to reduce the bible to a set of beliefs, what they might call “doctrine.” They teach that their doctrine is right and biblical. Focusing on a set of “proof texts,” they will say, for example, that a right knowledge of God’s word demonstrates certain things about man, about God, about how God redeems, etc. I’m not just talking about the fact that God is God, man sinned, God redeems through the cross of Jesus Christ, and that man needs faith to be reconciled to God. I’m talking about big theological words you will never hear out of a newly saved 7-year old child like “particular redemption,” “total depravity,” “prevenient grace,” “transubstantiation,” “ecclesiology,” “alien immersion,” and the like.

What’s interesting about all of that is that the God revealed in the bible appears to be quite an active God. Yes, there are positional or static facts that we can know. Like we can know that we are in Christ. We can know that we are saved. But at the same time we see that God tells us to keep on clothing ourselves in Christ. We see that we aren’t only to listen to the Word, we are to do it.

This makes the point of this post. How do we “do” theological concepts? How do we “do” static ideas? Could it be that the “doctrine” God wants us to believe is the doctrine of grace, good news, giving, and dying to oneself, just as Christ demonstrated through His life and death, and we should be much more about living for others than increasing our vocabularly? We should be much more about helping those in need, like widows and orphans, in the name of Jesus Christ. He wants us to be and act like Him.

It strikes me that religion today has become like what is described in Isaiah 58, where we have become religious for religion’s sake, learning and learning, but never doing what God desires. Think about what God tells us in this wonderful chapter:

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.

For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD ?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness [a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

then you will find your joy in the LORD,
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Responses

“Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.”

Would this be a declaration of… doctrine?

Your post posits a false dilemma:

Either be a stuffy, do-nothing, doctrinaire; or be too busy with good deeds to be worried about “sound doctrine”.

Certainly, one can be a chain-loosing, yoke-breaking, compassionate… believer, and also be passionate about sound, Biblical, theology, no?

God Bless

Jim B.’s last blog post..Sometimes I Weep

Jim, to your final paragraph’s questions above: Yes, and I believe that is exactly what I am trusting God to be and become – a compassionate, loving believer and a passionate lover of God and his Word. It is a both/and “thing,” Jim, but I’m still asking how you define sound biblical doctrine??

Where you say my post posits a false dilemma, I do apologize because when I go back and read it I see that it can be read that way. I definitely did not mean to make this an either/or thing. It is a both/and thing. Both the Word (which i talked about and meant for the reader to make the connection) and godly living. I was running out the door to head north to Chatsworth (www.chatsworth.org), with my wife wondering what I was doing, and wrote this morning’s post in five quick minutes. At the same time, I see so much of a knowledge-based focus that sometimes I lean too far to the other direction in the hope of pulling some people more to a balance. 🙂

With regard to your comment on the older post entitled “Doctrine Saves,” you say: “I think we insult the intellectual capacities of our hearers when we dumb down the Gospel.” I’m not sure that it isn’t more so that we insult God when we make more of the gospel than the fact that God clothed Himself with humanity to die for us (think Galatians).

I still can’t get over what God did, and I’m sure you feel the same way. God desires that we learn to die to ourselves and submit to one another in love. And He showed us how. Amazing. The God of the universe – the Almighty God – descended from heaven, His rightful place, forsaking and relinquishing all of His rights, to take our place on the cross so that we can be reconciled to Him! Praise the Lord!!! If that doesn’t get our blood pumping, nothing will!!!

Also, you forget that the gospel isn’t just for the average brain. It is for every brain God ever gave anyone, from the infant to the elderly, from the person blessed with a lower IQ to the person blessed with a MENSA qualifying IQ.

Given that I don’t think the concept of “dumbing down” is even relevant to the gospel and I wouldn’t want anything to do with such. The gospel is something every person can wrap themselves around because it transcends intellect. That’s part of my point. And it’s a fact that brings amazing glory to our God!

Paul’s letters are all to the Christians, those who have already accepted the gospel. When He met the unbelievers He simply preached, and not in a fancy way, Christ and Christ crucified. Simple. And Amazing. God loved you so much that he died an undeserved death (your death) to make it possible for you to be reconciled to Him. WOW!!!!

Yes, preach the Word!!! AMEN AND AMEN!! What’s the Word? Jesus. Preach Jesus! Live Jesus. Walk Jesus. Be Jesus. Don’t fall in the trap that says know a bunch of legal principles; instead, know a Person! That’s why Jesus had to say so little to the thief – the thief saw Jesus up close and personal. There’s no dissertation on cognitive, static, theological doctrine there; the doctrine was the Cross, up close and personal!!!! Jesus was doing it right there in front of the thief. The more we live the Cross the less we’ll have to say. But we will always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that lies in us!

I believe churches are empty because of hypocrisy. People claiming to believe in Jesus and the bible but not living it. People aren’t going into all the world to preach the Word (Jesus). People aren’t willing to believe that God will provide their every need so they cling to jobs they are unhappy doing rather than surrendering to God’s call on their lives. People go to church and receive less (or at least no more) love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control from others at the church than they do elsewhere and they are wondering why that is. Could it be that it is because people are more religious and knowledgeable than they are loving and humble?

I also still say that all these words help make the point. If we spent a day together much of these words would disappear. And we’d have a much better understanding of one another. But for now all we have is words and they just don’t resolve like the true gospel does – a gospel of relationship based on unconditional love.

Bryan: These are things I have been pondering of late and I like how you have dealt with them. Thanks for giving me something of substance to chew on as I seek to answer some to these things for myself.

Debbie Kaufman’s last blog post..*Update Alex Chediak Interview With O.S. Guiness On The Evangelical Manifesto Concerns

Thanks, Debbie, for the encouraging words. This is a hard area to write in. I, like you, have been steeped in the doctrines of the SBC. I have studied the word of God for years. I definitely am not desirous of repudiating essential aspects of God’s character or his saving grace, but I keep discoverying new aspects of the amazing complexity of Who God Is and his heart for us. It is very hard to publicly discuss such things, especially in front of those who know nothing of what I believe or who I am, for it seems they fear I am teaching a “doctrine” of nothing is knowable. It means a lot to me to hear from you that these thoughts are helpful.

“By the way, Norman Finkelstein disagreed with Hitchens’ claim that the movie was aniSei-mittc.” I think that Finkelstein was right. I can see why Jews might not like it, but that is not, in my mind, mean it is antisemitic. It was a very Catholic film, though. It was a two-hours-long Stations of the Cross.

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