DOING TO DOCTRINE
It is very easy to endorse a doctrine which supports a literal interpretation of Scripture. It is quite another thing to live a literal interpretation of Scripture. Believe me when I say they are light years apart. And as is man’s usual choice he takes the easier of the two. After the Industrial Revolution took place from the late 1700s to the early 1800s the literacy rate took a quantum leap. Libraries sprung up; common people could buy books; school taught more and more children; newspapers were birthed. All in all the general masses of people began to read.
And it was also in that time where the living standard began to rise. People could now own some modern conveniences. And an entrepreneurial spirit swept over America. Soon the common man would have running water and electricity and mass transit and later a car and a television. The entire national psyche was transformed and people became mesmerized by things and entertainment and the satisfaction of ownership and wealth. It was a seismic shift which had an enormous impact upon the culture, and the effect of that shift impacted the church as well.
Little by little the Christian faith became a set of doctrines at the expense of a life that follows Jesus and His teachings. The church now defended the faith through written doctrines and not through the unmistakable revelation of a life which is remarkable and conspicuous within a fallen culture. Doctrines were now not just foundational and important. They now were the faith itself. And therein lies a very subtle but very explosive shift. And that shift made room for all kinds of compromises within the church and the lives of professing believers.
Over the years the church has identified certain sins which are practiced within the culture. Sins like adultery and homosexuality and drugs and drunkenness and perversion and other sins were culled out, identified, and set up as targets. But while the church was pontificating about those sins a torrent of other sins came rushing into the church. And many of those sins walked into our lives because we did not see other elements of the culture as sinful and at odds with the teachings of Jesus. There are any number of sins which are related to money which the church embraces and even suggests they are God’s blessings. There are sins of self righteousness which are hidden within American politics and nationalism. But because the church considers itself patriotic it is blind to those sins.
And armed with a sound doctrine the church can practice a bastardized version of the faith. As long as you profess your belief in the Trinity and the virgin birth and salvation by grace through faith and even the inerrancy of Scripture you are a true follower of Jesus. And yet that is not what the New Testament teaches, and that is surely not what Jesus taught. After a person is born again by grace through faith in Christ the path to discipleship is much more than learning doctrines. And even though there are foundational doctrines of the faith they are not what discipleship is all about. There are some obvious indications that the evangelical church has succumbed to the dictates and practices of the world.
Preachers of the gospel were never meant to acquire wealth. Money always corrupts and consumed much space within our hearts and minds. Even the Tribe of Levi were not given land because the Lord was to be their inheritance. But look around today. I do not just mean the prosperity hucksters, but even famous orthodox men have become wealthy. They do not have to depend upon their “daily bread: since they have great sums stored up. Most, if not all, preachers who have written books and have large churches are wealthy man even if they are considered “orthodox”. In fact, as the church grows their salary package grows. And where did the church learn to adjust salaries upward in connect with numbers?
And given that sad state of affairs the church must rest fully upon her doctrines because her life practices are fully aligned with those of the world. Now let us hear the words from our Savior’s lips:
Matt.25: 31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Think about what Jesus is saying here. He is referring to last division between true believers and those who do not know Christ. And nowhere is there a hint of doctrine unless you believe that feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, and visiting those who waste in prison are doctrines of the faith. And to be sure they truly are. Now why are not these activities included in the “orthodox” list? Are we to conclude that nodding in agreement with the Trinity and the inerrancy of Scripture are pillars of the faith but ministering to fallen mankind in Jesus’ name are optional?
But Jesus seems to divide the sheep from the goats based upon these humanitarian deeds. I wonder how often we meditate upon the implications of such a teaching. And yet we say we believe the Scriptures are literal? This cuts to the very core of the essence of the faith which believes in and follows Jesus. Much of the orthodox world has made idols of their doctrines and lean fully upon them to prove their authenticity as a true disciple. And yet that flies in the face of the overwhelming content of the teachings of Jesus. It does not mean we saved by doing good works, however it does define the path to discipleship in stark contrast to just a list of carefully chosen cardinal doctrines.
The carnal heart of man can use some truths to provide a shield for his disobedience to others. And through the years in parts of the world that are well educated and “blessed” with material goods the church has paraded their doctrines as proof of their status as a disciple and defender of the faith while most, and I mean most, of Jesus’ teachings serve as fringe issues. That seems so unbelievable if you think about it.
But lest you misunderstand, at the core of our Christian life is the cross. And it is that very cross which motivates and empowers us to serve others. You see the cross is a truth and an event, but it is also the power of God. It isn’t a display in the doctrinal museum. It is life and life eternal. But when a sinner receives that life he desires to reflect that life through avenues of service while he is in this world. The cross was never meant to be a sign made by hands, or a piece of jewelry, or an element of doctrine frozen upon a page. It is the spiritual power of the universe which saves a soul and transforms a life from selfishness to selflessness.
So in light of all these truths and more how can we display lifeless doctrines as proof of our discipleship? In fact when you mention making a disciple of a new convert it almost always means teaching him the Word especially in the doctrinal vein. It seldom means to show him how to feed the hungry or clothe the naked or visit the prisoner. This has become a great sin in the church and a large stream for self righteousness. It has revolutionized the faith and created a man made clique called orthodoxy which is overwhelmingly doctrinal but absent scores of teachings from the lips of our Lord.
Over the last one hundred or so years following Jesus has shifted from a lifestyle into a doctrinal test.