Saturday, November 16, 2013

Thoughts on Christian Doctrinal Disagreements

In a past chapter of my irregular “Analysis of Christianity” series, I have already enumerated and analyzed the core beliefs of Christianity.  These – which are summarized in the Apostle’s Creed – are generally accepted truths by Christians.  And though believing in them is not the way to get saved (Jesus is the only Way!), the sincere confession of someone that he or she believes these truths is a big confirmation that he or she is a Christian.

However, outside of these core beliefs, Christians are divided on other “minor” doctrines.  I say “minor” because erring on these won’t necessarily disqualify someone from being identified as a Christian.  The doctrinal differences are on things such as practices, traditions, spiritual mechanics, spiritual nature, and the like.  And despite these “minor” divisions, Christians remain one in Christ.  

These different beliefs exist because of the imperfectness of the human-made religious structure or organization which Christianity had to – unfortunately – function in; as well as Christians, being human beings, have flawed human natures, and these flaws comes to play – consciously or unconsciously brought about – in causing different theological views: natural human hardheadedness, pride, bias, personal prejudices, arrogance on relying on self-wisdom, and tendency to cater personal preferences and self-conveniences.  Moreover, the devil actively working to cause divisions – both in major and minor details – among Christians is also a significant factor.    

Indeed, the foundation for Christian beliefs should be the Bible – God’s Word itself.  However, biblical misinterpretations do happen.  And different interpretations lead to different doctrines. 

Aside from misinterpretation, there are also manipulation and misuse of the Scriptures.  Unfortunately, not only cults misuse and manipulate the Bible, but some Christians as well.  They create a doctrine or belief that is convenient to them – something that makes them feel good to believe in (e.g. “God wants me to have [material] prosperity in life!”, “Everybody will go to heaven!”, “Obama is the Beast!”, etc.) – then picks Bible passages that can “support” the doctrine; these biblical bases that they claim to support their doctrines are either from Scriptures that were taken out of context or misinterpreted from vague passages (usually, the metaphoric, prophetic parts of the Bible).  The right way to establish doctrines is to examine the Scriptures first and then derived the doctrines from it (with the guidance of the Holy Spirit) – not the other way around.  And even if the process leads to a conclusion that is something that doesn’t give a “feel good” feeling, it shouldn’t be denied but should be accepted because it’s a truth!  Also, it is a fact that the Bible can never contradict itself.  Thus, if your interpretation regarding a vague biblical passage is conflicting with a detail that is explicitly comprehensible from another clear, objective biblical passage, then it is an obvious indication that your interpretation for that vague passage is wrong.        

But let me emphasize that a Christian should be a lover of truth!  It is wrong for him to stubbornly hold on an incorrect belief because it is something convenient or beneficial for him to believe in.  There are Christians who have this attitude unfortunately.  However, in general, a Christian’s desire at foremost is to give glory to God.  When a Christian believes in something, he sincerely believes that this certain doctrine, teaching, or practice glorifies God.  Presbyterians practice infant baptism because they believe it will glorify God.  Baptists don’t practice infant baptism because they don’t believe it will glorify God.  They have different doctrinal opinions about the matter but their desire is the same: to do things that will glorify God (and not do things that won’t).  They only have different opinions on what or what does not give glory to God, or what is the best way to glorify God (e.g., loud prayer vs. silent prayer, modern band worship music vs. solemn organ worship music, etc.).  So a sincere, faithful Christian may err on the doctrinal aspect because this certain false belief he has is what he thinks is the best way to glorify God.  The practice or belief could be incorrect, but at least the right heart is there.  That is actually greatly preferable than believing in something out of personal pride or convenience.  Moreover, once a sincere Christian, who puts God’s glory at top of everything and set asides his or her personal wisdom and conveniences, sees the truth and is convinced, he would toss away the false doctrine or practice he holds on to and embrace the correct one.  Healthy and Spirit-led doctrinal debates among Christians – as what debate is actually designed for – should aim to find truth, for truth glorifies God.     

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