Listening to how people speak, how they think and whether a word choice carries with it a positive or negative connotation can quickly suggest some impressions about doctrine. Recently a candid meeting confirmed my suspicions. Apparently some regard doctrine as a dirty word. How did we arrived here?
Consider the following stereotypes from history. For many, such story snippets exist in mere memory, nevertheless I suspect they resonate and wield determinative power over current perspectives. Once we understand something about the journey, what might the next steps be?
As I prepared the devotional this morning based on a verse from the letter of Jude, following our New Testament reading schedule, I checked the Portuguese New Testament I’m carrying while in the U.S. This volume has introductions to each book.
Under its “Important Themes,” was this sentence: “It’s not ideas that cause division, but practical behavior that divides the community.”
Everett Ferguson, as I recall, observed that doctrinal formulations in the history of the church often followed changes in practice.
Having said that, however, Arlie Hoover is also correct that “ideas have consequences.”
Ideas — or, in the case here, teachings — are linked to practice. One cannot change one without changing the other, to avoid what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, a “condition of conflict or anxiety resulting from inconsistency between one’s beliefs and one’s actions, such as opposing the slaughter of animals and eating meat,” as defined by the dictionary.
Some cultures seem to have a higher tolerance for such inconsistencies. Post-modernism deals with inconsistency by devaluing mental activity in order to give priority to action (although post-modernists are prolific writers). Relativism discounts universal truth as a factor in behavior, effectively undermining normative ethics as a field of study.
Such attempts seek to deal with the inconsistencies of belief and practice.
Modern evangelicalism coined the phrase “walk the talk” to express the necessity of consistency; it stands as a testament to the general lack of it in popular American religion.
In his letter, Jude makes clear that “the faith,” which refers to the teaching of Christ for which his readers should battle, is compromised by the perversion of grace and the immorality of the false teachers. So today it would appear not to be coincidental that a major doctrinal departure led by progressive elements in the church is accompanied, if not propelled, by moral issues such as feminism, the homosexual movement, adultery, and immorality.
The solution? First, to perceive the danger, just as Jude, as well as other New Testament witnesses, warn against. Second, to exercise discipline in the local church, in order to maintain the purity of the body of Christ. Third, to maintain oneself holy in conduct and faithful to the teaching of Christ.
Contrary to the liberal statement about Jude in the New Testament book’s introduction, both beliefs and practices do cause division. Beliefs matter, and if Christians tolerate departures in the clear and essential teachings of Scripture, they open the door to changing the faith into an unrecognizable system that will earn the disapproval of the Lord.