Importance of Doctrine

8 04 2010

Hey guys,

So I’ve been knee-deep in summer camp planning this week trying to get details ironed out and curriculum written, and counselors lined up.  It’s a fun process and builds the anticipation for a great summer seeing God work through His children up at Quaker Haven.  I know many of you have wonderful memories of your time as a camper up at Quaker Haven.  It’s a special place, a place that God has worked through many generations.

Think about how formative some of those early experiences with God were in your life.

Sunday School

Children’s Church

Vacation Bible School

Summer Camps

After-School programs

AWANA/Pioneer clubs

Mission Trips

Whatever it was, those were times that you spent learning about God.  Times of laying down a foundation for your faith.  There comes a time in your life, usually during your college years, when you have the choice to take that faith you learned as a child and make it your own.  Not the faith of your parents or your church, but a personal intimate relationship that you have with your Heavenly Father.  But if you think about it….that relationship wouldn’t be the same without that foundation you built on as a child.

The Church is currently at an interesting place in history.  We are seeing a shift away from foundational truths, or doctrine, or theology (whatever you want to call it) and a focus more on individual experience and relative truth.  We, as Quakers, value the experience individuals have with the Holy Spirit, but without the context of Truth, doctrine/ theology, and Scripture, that experience can flounder in a borderless realm of feel-good statements and watered down platitudes.

Last month’s issue of the Christianity Today magazine had a wonderful article by Darren Marks called The Mind Under Grace; Why Theology is an Essential Nutrient for Spiritual Formation.  I wanted to share some if with you guys…

Doctrine.  The word conjures in the modern mind a string of negative images: The Inquisition.  Boring professors debating the number of angels on the head of a pin.  Bloggers arguing endlessly while the church flags in relevance in the once-Christian West.  Doctrine is a bludgeon, a curiosity, a rearranging of the deck chairs while the ship sinks.  Vibrant Christians want little to do with it, and instead focus on spiritual disciplines, works of mercy, and authentic Christian living.  Doctrine belongs to the past, when it was used mainly to divide believers…But we have to ask: Is it possible to live out discipleship without  a good measure of heady doctrine?  I see doctrine not as a boundary but as a compass.  Its purpose is not to make Christians relevant or distinctive but rather to make then faithful in their contexts.  Doctrine is a way of articulating what God’s presence in the church and the world looks like.  It can orient us by helping us…major in the majors.

In addition, I believe the crisis of the Western church is not about information itself but about the kind of information we absorb in our churches.  Philosopher James K. A. Smith put it best: “Theology is not some intellectual option that makes us ‘smart’ Christians; it is the graced understanding that makes us faithful disciples”

I’m using the terms doctrine and theology interchangeably.  To be exact, doctrine is more or less settled theology…Doctrine is wisdom that helps us clarify our mission.  Yet we seem decidedly uninterested in such wisdom today, both inside and outside the church…Many complain that the church has become incapable of cultivating Christian habits in its people.  No wonder, when for so many the starting point is not God but spiritual experience.  How can we sustain any spiritual growth if it is grounded in something as transitory as what we feel, individually or corporately?  The decreasing lack of interest in core Christian beliefs is due in part to church leaders who chase after relevance over substance – focusing on the feeling that something is meaningful rather than the truth that something is meaningful.  It is also due to church members who imagine that their experience is the touchstone of truth about God, rather than learning to evaluate their experience in light of Scripture and theology.  Over the years, I have found that the students in my classroom grow in understanding by studying “dusty” and “dry doctrine.  They learn to interrogate their experiences, asking how they may find a “theological experience” or mission.

We, as Quakers, are not opposed to doctrine, as many would claim we are.  Basic Christian doctrine has been the basis of our faith since the very beginning.  In fact, Robert Barclay wrote this in his work Anarchy of the Ranters:

Where a people are gathered together into the belief of the principles of the doctrines of the gospel of Christ, if any of that people shall go from their principles, and assert things false and contrary to what they have already received; such as stand and abide firm in the faith, have power, by the Spirit of God; after they have used Christian endeavors to convince and reclaim them, upon their obstinacy, to separate from such and to exclude them from their spiritual fellowship and communion.  For otherwise, if this be denied, farewell to all Christianity, or to the maintaining of and sound doctrines in the Church of Christ.

So as you are thinking about how your faith has been formed, take some time to think about how important those flannel-board Sunday school lessons or VeggieTales videos were to who you are now in your faith.  How those simple Truths shaped you.  And may you remember to fall in love with the teachings of your youth, that Jesus Christ came and died for you on a cross, and that through His death you may experience freedom and joy.

Plan to revisit Quaker Haven this May with our College Camp.  A great chance for you to reconnect and recharge.  Only $60!

To the King!





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