8.05.2008

the issue at my fingertips

A quick disclaimer: I use a touch of cuss and foul language in the following post. If such language offends you, skip to another post. Otherwise read on.

Also, I do love the Church and her teachings. I just have Jacob-to-Israel Strugglings a lot. I think it is important to be open, honest, and to dialogue about our struggles. Instead of hiding. I am beginning to think that hiding is weak and doesn't really work. I can't hide on this topic anymore.

And this is not about my church, but about an observation made from hours of internet reading, conversation, and other inaccurate methods of investigation.

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I am thoroughly irritated by doctrine.

Not so much the actual words of doctrinal statements. Those are helpful, useful, and quite good. I think having guidance in our understanding of scripture is invaluable. But the concept of doctrine is culturally shrouded with the pharisaic notion that somehow one's doctrinal upholding makes them better, holier, more true to the word of God. Right doctrine (being right about doctrine) doesn't save. Right doctrine doesn't put me right with God. Christ alone puts me right with God.

The concept that doctrine is so complex and unknowable that the average person or even a learned person cannot understand it seems anti-scriptural. Certainly there are many levels at which one can read scripture, but didn't Christ teach in the simplest of parables? My heart is wrenched into a convulsing fit at these words of former pastor. I've substituted the defining denominational adjectives because this isn't about one denomination or another.
I can think of many people who have had 12 years of Christian education, and don't know what it means to be Christian. I know others who graduated from both Christian colleges and seminary, who still don't know, and don't even understand the Christian doctrine of justification. Several of them work at the national church offices. ...
If it is so damn hard to understand that it takes 12 plus years of doctrinal training to understand the Word of God, we are all going to hell, straight down. We'd be headed there anyway if it weren't for Christ. Our pure understanding of doctrine is some sort of side dish that doesn't really matter, compare, or even exist if you don't have Christ as Savior.

To be clear, I am not promoting a Jesus-Only doctrine or a doctrine-less church or an upheaval of standard teaching in the church, but I am afraid I've seen far too many instances of the knowledge of doctrine in use for building pride (for a group or a self) and not for building a deeper relationship with our God*. The fighting within denominations over doctrinal minutia or adiaphora or the nitpicking over the words of the pastor on a Sunday morning debilitate the ministry, dishearten the workers, and drive the faithful into hiding. It sends our hearts into flurries of 8th commandment breaking (that would be the 9th for the reformed readers among us) and away from the presence of God. If a pastor can't explain justification in plain English, in an accessible way to the men and women of the congregation who work and raise families for a living, he is failing his congregation miserably. And if his primarily concern in the congregation is wholly centered on teaching people about doctrine (orthodoxy) and not simultaneously engaging them in the Work of the Church and seeking the presence of Christ (orthopraxy), something is amuck.

I wonder what would happen if instead of pushing our churchworkers through mountains of theology and doctrine, we pushed them through prayer and service. I wonder what would happen if silent contemplation on the Word of God was a required part of ministry/discipleship training. I wonder what would happen if there were emphasis placed on the unknowable, mysterious parts of God, the dismissal of rationality to explain faith or that which is not stated in God's Word, the trust one must place in God not to attempt to resort to rationality in a time of weakness.

Would we become mystic? Culturally irrelevant? Would we lose a camaraderie of the convinced? Would we bind together in awe? Would we step out of our culture of fear and promote one of hope and belonging?

Are we afraid that in de-emphasizing categorical and minute understanding of doctrine that the True God will be lost? Are we afraid that silence will open us to greater temptation than filling our minds with more words? Are we truly afraid that doctrinal differences could bring condemnation from a God who sent His Son to die on a brutal cross?

Someone recently said to me that you can't "nice" someone into knowing Christ. I would argue that you can't "word" them into knowing him either. A person's faith comes to them in a mysterious way, in an unknowable place between words and deeds. As the Church, we need to spend more time trying to bring people to that place than trying to describe it.

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*It is a huge pet peeve of mine when people cut off the indefinite article in sentence such as this one, i.e. building deeper relationship with God. A!, people!!, A relationship. I could write a whole separate post about the irritating disuse of indefinite articles, but I think I've summed it up in this little rant that for some reason you are still reading.

5 comments:

nate said...

i was wandering through titus this morning while prepping for a funeral and came across this in titus 3:9-11:

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

good post. i look forward to the comments

+gmjameson said...

Oh how I could wax on and on about this with you ... for daily I see a sort of "chaining" the Word back to the Church walls (figuratively, but not less damaging) through attitudes such as the one you decry in this post ... And I find myself too tired to really "fight" what feels inevitable ... I don't know. And it's not an issue with conservativism ... there's conservativism and there's fundamentalism. And lately, we seem beseiged by the later, and it is clouding the purpose of the Church as co-workers in the Gospel Mission of God. ...

alaina said...

its good to hear your voice around here gretchen.
nate, please tell me that wasn't the funeral text. oh my.
I like the distinction of conservatism and fundamentalism. Though labels in general confuse me. I know there is exhaustion and frustration and inhibition on the topic, I almost didn't post this. So how do we continue to work for the better of the church without getting worn from all the battle?
on a related note... It makes me very sad that so much time is spent on the mechanical side in the training of churchworkers and so little time is spent spiritually developing them. Perhaps I am unique in this experience.
I'm having a hard time being concise this afternoon, and I want others to comment along before I swoop in with verbose elongations of my thoughts.

Tim said...

Have you read Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell? He has a neat little section in that book that talks about doctrines. To (completely) paraphrase him, he basically says that doctrines are only as useful as the end towards which they are being applied. He points out that many people use doctrines as bricks in a wall (to restrict both believers and non-believers), but argues that he thinks they're better viewed as springs in a trampoline (to increase joy).

alaina said...

Tim, I have read VE. A looooong time ago. Okay, maybe 3 years ago. But now that you mention it, I DO remember that description and some of the other things he writes on in that chapter.
It reminded me a lot about a concept I learned in my undergrad theology days about the Mosaic law. Essentially, in order to avoid breaking the law, the scribes, pharisees, etc. built fences, hedges, use your own wall-like analogy, to protect the people from breaking the law... was called ___________ (Uh, hebrew people help me out. I know you are reading and rolling your eyes at me right now).
As Christians, we are so quick to condemn the pharisees, but fail to see how much our practices mirror one another.
And so how do we make the teachings of the church a joy? and not a fence? I do want to roll on the ground and wail about it, but I also want to pick myself up and know that there is something that can be done. hmmm.