When Doctrine Diverts Devotion
At the very outset of this post I want to openly and before the “Sanhedrin” proclaim my belief in the importance of doctrine. Doctrine is just another way of saying truth and Paul tells us the Scriptures are profitable for doctrine, so without doctrine we can get deceived very quickly. Being grounded in the Word means not only quoting verses but comparing Scripture with Scripture and coming to a fuller and more complete knowledge of God’s truth. It takes perseverance and time to study to approve ourselves as workmen in God’s Word and it has a reward inherent in the pursuit itself. It is not enough to know the first principles of Christ, we must be diligent about learning the Word both by faithful teachers and in our personal study. It is part of the difference between being a babe in Christ and moving on to maturity.
Studying doctrine is not just for the preacher or Bible college students, it is for every and all believers. Sadly it is evident that many if not most believers do not take that admonition seriously and the result is a baby church that is tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. To be versed in the Scriptures and what they teach is what brings a believer into maturity and it protects us from deception. Studying and learning God’s truths is a wonderful journey of revelation and faith that feeds the spirit and opens passageways of glory that we could never know with the limited power of our own minds.
Demanding complete doctrinal purity is cultish, and there is always doctrinal latitude among most believers and even among those who seem to focus almost exclusively on doctrine. Some of the most stringent and combative doctrinal proponents have differences of eschatology, election, and surprisingly soteriology. And like Abram chasing the birds from the sacrifice, we must never leave the devotion to the sacrifice and be satisfied with chasing birds. A disciple seeks the truth of God’s Word through searching the Scriptures, but his heart is always with the Savior.
Just as a believer who is lazy in his Bible study is shallow and vunerable to error, so is the believer who makes doctrine his place of devotion and becomes vulnerable to settling for a form of knowledge as worship. There is a wonderful mystery available for every believer where God can take the truths we have learned with our minds and infuse them into our spirits and hearts and incorporate them into our devotion to the Savior. Many people live their Christian life looking through the eyes of their particular doctrine or systematic theology and have been robbed of the blessing of a broken and contrite heart of worship before God. And many Christians are more interested in debating doctrine than sharing Jesus.
That is not say we should discard our beliefs about theology, no, but what it does mean that we should not always live as if we were in a classroom studying systematic theology. There are many times when we should commune with Christ with our whole hearts, devoted and surrendered to Him on the simple basis of a follower to his Lord and not with the minute parts of our doctrine in the forefront of our minds. There is a difference between Jesus the Christ and the systematized facts about Him. Knowing theology does not guarantee the presence of Christ, and just studying the Scriptures is not always diligently seeking Him.
I once gave my testimony of how wonderfully God had saved me. In my sharing I said I had “placed my faith on the Lord Jesus Christ”. A man then corrected me because that phrase did not align with his theology. I asked the man if that was all he received from my testimony, and could he ever be blessed without always listening for doctrinal issues? He said he always listened for doctrine. I believe a person can know doctrine and not have a heart of devotion, but true devotion will incorporate doctrine while keeping it as an enhancement and foundation of his devotion but never being an “object” of devotion itself. I know this seems like splitting hairs but it is not, we must be devoted to the Lord God who is a spirit who is revealed by the written Word but not totally captured by human words. This unbalanced focus on doctrine is why there is so little emphasis on prayer or fasting or waiting before the Lord, and in so doing we run the risk of worshiping with our heads and not our hearts. We must never lose the recognition of the mystery woven throughout the Scriptures or we have made God a mathematical equation.
And we have made up names that categorize certain views concerning elements of doctrine that the average Christian would not recognize. And if you are conversant with these terms you may be considered “mature” even if your are wanting in your devotional life. Monergism, Synergism, pellagra, semi-pelagian, pedobaptist, prederist, semi-prederist, and on and on goes the man made list of doctrinal views that are used sometimes in an attempt to reveal the depth of our knowledge by showing a categorizing scorn to other views. Let me tip my hand to you, I was saved in March of 1975. I did not know any of those terms or even what they represent.
The only doctrine I knew was that Jesus was God and the only way to the Heavenly Father and that by believing in Him I would be saved. I was saved listening to Billy Graham on television and my entire life was dramatically changed. I sold drugs to high school kids, I was promiscuous, I was violent, and I and three other men had been planning a bank robbery that involved killing the bank guard. And when I was saved everyone who had known me was amazed at the metamorphosis that they saw in my life.
I have shared that to let you know that many people would question some of Billy Graham’s doctrine, including me, but God still used him to reach me. So although doctrine among believers is important, God still desires our hearts along with our hearts. We cannot think that because we have all our systematic theology in place that God is pleased and satisfied, no, the Lord is looking for those who worship Him in spirit and truth. So who would be more pleasing to God, the man in my neighborhood who is “doctrinally sound” but didn’t witness to me or the man who is so devoted to Christ he cannot help but share the gospel with me? And who is more pleasing to God the man who is orthodox and is proud in his singing of hymns or the charismatic man who weeps before his Lord as he sings his redundant psalms because he feels so broken and grateful?
Learn God’s Word and hide his Word in your heart. Study to show yourself an approved workman before your Lord. Compare the Scriptures and even confront serious error. But always cultivate a heart of devotion to our Wonderful Lord and Savior. Do not let your heart worship theology, let theology enhance your worship. There is a vast difference between knowing more about God and knowing God more, and that difference can be measured by the fruits of God’s Spirit. And never, never be smug and self righteous about what you know, be broken before God that His Spirit has led you to a fuller understanding about who He is. Be aware that there are many devoted followers of Jesus that would not hold to some peripheral doctrinal points as you, do not shut them out but embrace them as your brothers and sisters even in disagreement. I believe God would have us do such because the world has stumbled over our needless divisions and smug doctrinal sectarianism.
A devoted heart of worship is a gift God offers to every believing follower of Christ, let us cultivate it faithfully in reverence and love in His presence.