Monday, March 17, 2008

Pet Doctrine Obedience School

One thing that almost every person in the Church of God has in common is the fact that we all have certain pet doctrines. I have two: one is a pomeranian and the other is a ferret, figuratively speaking. They may appear all cute and cuddly, but don't get too close... They bite.

Seriously, I've heard all kinds of pet doctrines over the years. Some are just personal beliefs that are more theory than theology. Others cause complete disruption in the Church. And of course, there are all colors, shapes and sizes in between. They're breeded and custom fit for your way of thinking and your personal experiences. Need some examples?

  • The atmosphere was a fine mist around the earth that blocked harmful UV rays that allowed man to live 900+ years. It caused the Flood. Or...
  • Mankind had much of the same technology we do today at the Tower of Babel, and that's why God gave them over to different languages, so we wouldn't genetically engineer ourselves into super beings. Or...
  • Conspiracies are real! Or...
  • The correct understanding on the calendar is... [insert pet doctrine here]. Or...
  • Views on new moons, make up, eating out on the Sabbath, reading other church's material, how to keep the Sabbath, how to count Pentecost, what the gospel is, what the Work of God is, what kind of government is best today, who's the end-time Elijah, when is Christ returning, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera (there's that Latin in italics again).
Did I hit one of yours? Some pet doctrines are completely provable. Some are disprovable. Some are interesting thoeries. Some are nice thoughts and good suggestions. Some are working toward the right direction, but are part of a larger spiritual understanding yet to be discovered.

This post is not written because of, or for, any one individual out there (you're so vain... :-D). It affects most everyone in God's Church, including several of my friends and family, as well as myself. Pet doctrines have been at the center of sharp divisions since the apostle's time; since humans have lived, really. People attending the same group can have wildly differing views on subjects thought to be well understood. Others know they don't agree with their group's doctrines on a subject, but they "go along" knowing that one day "they'll see it God's way [MY way]." So what can we do about these pet doctrines?

Identify Pet Doctrines

I think, first, we must identify which of our beliefs are pet doctrines. Do we believe the same as CLEAR and PROVABLE teachings of the Bible, the Church, our minister or our fellow members? Regular Bible study and fellowship about godly principles will help you see where you're in agreement with God's Church. If you find yourself not agreeing with a church doctrine, or part of the sermon, talk with your minister about it. Make sure it isn't just a misunderstanding on your part. If you are still in disagreement, then dig deeper, seek more counsel and pray for understanding and a teachable spirit.

The Church of God is to live a separate way of life than the world (in the world, not of the world). However, the feeing of joy/pain associated with separating from the world for a righteous calling and purpose can lead some to feel that any separation from a majority position to one of the minority justifies that their own thinking is more righteous than others around. This can become a vicious cycle leading to stay-at-home churches. "My wife and I are still in agreement, but I'm starting to wonder about her, too." Granted, just because a majority believes something doesn't make it true, as is the case with the world. However, "in the multitude of [wise, righteous] counselors [led by the Holy Spirit, shown by their obvious fruits,] there is safety." Loners are rarely right, either, nor is being alone healthy for growing in grace and knowledge. Even finding others who agree with your pet doctrine isn't a guarantee, for "if the blind lead the blind, they will both fall into the ditch."

Are your ideas firmly attached to the "trunk of the tree", or are they limbs and leaves? Are they vital for salvation, or are they just interesting side points? Will people enter into God's Kingdom without your understanding on a doctrine? Do they regularly cause problems with the ministry or other members?

Put It To The Test

Another vital step is to test our pet doctrines. It's really not a bad idea throughout your lifetime to subject every one of your beliefs to an intense proof study from time to time. After all, if they're correct, what do you have to lose? Pride? We should all be getting rid of that nasty characteristic.

For fact-based beliefs, it doesn't hurt to bounce ideas off of experienced members who know their Bibles well. Also, get the history and context behind the verses you're using. Prove it from multiple sources. Don't use the most obscure Greek word that happens to fit your idea. If possible, ask a Greek or Hebrew scholar who doesn't have a religious agenda to interpret. Be willing to say, it may not be totally provable until Christ explains it to us. II Tim. 2:14-16 - "Put them in memory of these things, charging them before the Lord not to dispute about words to no profit, to the subverting of the hearers. Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. But shun profane, vain babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness." Do your babblings, er, I mean, ideas increase ungodliness, that is, Satanic confusion?

For faith-based beliefs, use this simple scripture: "Test (or prove) all things. Hold fast to that which is good." Get rid of what isn't helpful or good. In other words, DO it. Test your belief by acting on it. Don't just keep vocalizing it ad nauseam. I John 3:18 - "My children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth." And I John 2:3 - "And hereby we know that we know Him if we keep His commandments." Don't shrug off God's people who don't agree with you by labeling them as "weak", ala I Cor. 8. Rather, suffer them, as the rest of the scripture says. Live and let live. If your tested belief works well repeatedly, then let your example show it. Let the fruits of such faith shine through. It may take months or years for others to notice, but it's far better proof if someone sees your example and grasps it because they've "experienced" it. But be honest with yourself if it doesn't produce the fruit of righteousness. v19-20: "And in this we shall know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him, that if our heart accuses us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things." God will show us if we are wrong, too, if we are listening carefully and praying for His will to be done. Humility is vital -- are you proving YOUR point or God's?

How Does Your Attitude Affect Others?

One must analyze whether their pet doctrine is a confident labrador, a quivering chihuahua or a growling, biting rottweiler. Has your belief on a subject caused fierce division even among those who taught you? Are you afraid to share your idea with others in fear of ridicule? We should always seek the truth, regardless of how it makes us look. God's Word always leads to a better life, right? "All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose." I John 2:3 stated above says to "know that you know" God's ways. Be confident in your beliefs, but they should also edify and encourage others.

God's ways ultimately cause unity, not division. Even if your pet doctrine is God's doctrine, God surely doesn't want you misrepresenting Him by acting like a pompous jerk in presenting it. Phil. 1:15-16 - "Some indeed even preach Christ because of envy and strife, and some also of good will. Those, indeed, preach Christ out of contention, not sincerely..." Even though Paul rejoices that the gospel is being preached, I'm sure he would have rather not had to defend it because of those individuals' attitudes, as he states, "...supposing to add affliction to my bonds." Paul was imprisoned for his teachings, yet did not strive with his captors. There is a difference. Being disfellowshipped is not righteous suffering. More than likely, someone who was cast out of the Church was striving and causing division rather than "the leaders not admitting that a lay-member was right."

Remember, it took decades before Mr. Armstrong changed his position on counting Pentecost. But he did recognize his error. Are you willing to wait? As long as gross sin or apostacy is not being committed, is it really worth leaving over? Is the present course going to cost the Church its salvation, or are you just personally hurt by being slighted for the moment? Did a minister or authority figure step on your toes?

Rather, discussing your beliefs with loving, gentle patience will help your point be made. Every adult and child would rather feel that they are being taught for their own well-being rather than their correction, even though they may be one in the same. However, when it is felt that someone is merely being contentious and vain, it becomes easy to tune out. (The Author recognizes that he has been tuned out many times before, too. He is trying to be less preachy... Honest!) Rebuke may be necessary at times, but ask yourself, "Am I the one that really should be doing the chastizing? Is this individual even ready to hear this right now? Will they accept it in their current level of understanding?" Again, does the presentation of our ideas cause strife with others? Is our attitude divisive?

And always remember, it's okay to agree to disagree with people. Some people just won't see it your way for now. There may be a difference in personal interpretation or life experiences. It's better to still have a open, loving relationship with your brethren rather than being seen as one always stirring up trouble or never letting something die. Are you going to have more success as a saint being right or being patient and allowing people to see the Truth in time? Again, if no one sees it your way, take another step back and re-evaluate. Ask for help doing so. Being humble and honest with yourself is hard when you're right all the time, I know. :)

Partial Truth

As most of us already know, God's word is layered with a lot of depth, which is why we are instructed to continue to study it regularly. We do this to remember basic doctrines and to keep our understanding in perspective, but we also study to apply our most recent life experiences to God's word. I have found that my perspective as a teenager was different than when I became employed, or when I became married, or now that I have a son. Surely those who have experienced 50+ years in the Church will have much more understanding than that.

Someone who is new to a subject may have only uncovered a little of the complete picture of the rich spiritual meaning contained therein. Here is a silly example of this: One may say, "We should study our Bible on the Sabbath." Yes, but we can also fellowship, too. "NO! We must STUDY! You're doing your own pleasure!" Hopefully no one has encountered this particular argument, but similar, narrow-minded viewpoints have been made on a variety of subjects. An individual is not narrow-minded because they are simply unaware of subject matter, but if they are unwilling to hear and contemplate new or differing understanding than their own. Mr. Smith made the analogy of an ant walking on the Mona Lisa. "This is all black right here where I'm standing." **Picks the ant up high above the painting** "Oooh, I didn't know all THAT was there!"

As good Bible students already know, study ALL relevant scriptures on a subject. By reading through the entire Bible regularly, you may run across something that wasn't found by using Strong's or a topical reference. Regular discussion with other faithful members will bring out perspectives that you may not have considered before. God created the Church with this purpose in mind. "Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."

Let's Hear the Conclusion, Already!

Pay careful attention to each point Peter states just before his death to the entire Church: II Pet. 1:5-8 - "But also in this very thing, bringing in all diligence, filling out your faith with virtue [praiseworthy actions], and with virtue, [God's, not your own] knowledge; and with knowledge self-control [watch what you say and do], and with self-control, patience [allow people grow and understand at the rate God is leading them], and with patience, godliness [righteous and holy fruits will shine through], and with godliness, brotherly kindness [are you displaying gentleness and kindness, or are you divisive?], and with brotherly kindness, love [even shown to the world and your enemies?]. For if these things are in you and abound, they make you to be neither idle nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."

When we have pet doctrines, we must make sure that they are indeed God's truth. We must watch how we present these ideas. Even if our intentions are good, we must inspect the fruits of our attitude towards our pet doctrines. We must also inspect our attitude when others present their ideas to us. Amazing truth can come from anywhere. But so can junk. If you feel something is absolutely necessary for salvation, do it! "For he who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin." But allow your example shine to those who may not agree with you. And be willing to admit when your way didn't work and learn from that. Search for the entire truth on a subject... It will take a lifetime, and even then, we won't come close to what God knows.

God expects us to take the gift of Truth that He has given us and use it for the edification of others, not only for our own selves. If we isolate ourself from others because of our pet doctrines, we may become no different than the crazy cat lady down the street. However, if we "live peaceably with all men, as much as depends on you", we shall lie down with the Lamb in God's Kingdom.

1 comment:

Wallace Smith said...

Insightful stuff, Mike! Some really good comments there -- I appreciated the read. Thanks!