By Marcelo Tolopilo
About eight years ago I received a newsletter from a couple involved in an ‘intercessory worship’ movement. The article described an ecumenical march in which they had participated. The march apparently had as its focus the worship of Jesus. The groups represented in this religious parade ranged from liberal to conservative, fringe groups to mainline denominations and an assortment of everything in between. . . . As the march moved along, the different traditions paraded through town each one joining the cacophonous worship experience in their own self styled way.
The point of the article was that all these people got together regardless of doctrinal differences just to worship Jesus. “Isn’t wonderful” the author wrote enthusiastically, “that we were all able to put doctrine and theology aside and simply worship Jesus?!” The admonition of the article was that we should all strive for the same, lay our cumbersome doctrinal stumbling blocks aside, come together, and simply worship Jesus. At face value that sounds pretty good doesn’t it, and it could lead one to ask the question, “Does doctrine really matter?” Is it a burden or a blessing?
Would the Real Jesus Please Stand Up! The sticky issue this individual did not tackle however was this, “Which Jesus are we to worship?” Just about everyone believes in Jesus. Every cult certainly does. The Jehovah’s Witnesses do but their Jesus is nothing but a creature, a created man like you and me. A man who lived, died and did not rise again from the dead physically. The Mormons also purport a belief in Jesus, but according to Mormon doctrine Jesus was the offspring of a sexual relationship between God the Father and the virgin Mary. Mormon theology teaches that Jesus is not eternal, that he is the half brother of Satan, and was and remains a committed polygamist (they claim Jesus had three wives during his earthly ministry, and that Joseph Smith is the direct physical descendant of Jesus of Nazareth).
Dr. Albert Schweitzer the great philanthropist and Lutheran medical missionary believed that Jesus was a great man . . . . who also happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. According to Schweitzer, Jesus was caught under the negative momentum of his own ministry and tragically crushed by it. He was not God, but he was a good man who lived an exemplary life. And even though his ministry was cut short by a horrible, untimely death his example, none-the-less, lives on. Father Hans Kuhn the noted Catholic theologian believed Jesus to be an extraordinary teacher and moralist. However Kuhn also maintained that Jesus never performed a miracle and perished in the grave like any other man. The miracles and resurrection accounts were added later to the Gospels by his well meaning disciples. Even though these supernatural stories are not true historical events, these myths none-the-less contain kernels of moral truth (how a known lie can be viewed as a vehicle of moral truth is a mystery to me, yet that’s what Kuhn believed). In order to discover the real Jesus, Kuhn reasoned as did Schweitzer, we must strip him of his mythological baggage (the miraculous) so that we might embrace the moral power of his persona (Gag me!). Muslims, Christian Scientists, Hollywood, and probably everyone of your neighbors believe in Jesus. The question that remains is which Jesus are we going to believe in and worship? Frankly, the only way we can resolve that question is with biblical doctrine, theology. These are not burdens beloved, but precious gifts from God given for our growth and protection. The proposition that we lay doctrine and theology aside when it comes to issues of faith is irresponsible and reckless. Such an act would expose us to the lies of the enemy and to great spiritual peril.
Have ‘doctrine’ and ‘theology’ become dirty words?
Everyone has a belief system, but for Christians it is truth, biblical doctrine and theology, that gives shape to our faith, empowers us to grow, and protects us from error. The last thing we need to do as believers is to lay aside truth. Quite the contrary, we need to continually deepen our biblical understanding. Consider the words of Paul to his disciple, a young pastor by the name of Timothy. Paul encourages Timothy to pursue a lifestyle where he can be “…constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of sound doctrine.” (1 Timothy 4:6). A few verses later he admonishes Timothy, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of scripture (the reading of God’s word that took place every week when believers met to worship followed by its explanation), to exhortation (the application of truth) and teaching (the consistent, orderly presentation of biblical truth)…Take pains with these things, be absorbed in them…Pay close attention to yourself and your teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13,15,16)
Rather than treating doctrine as a perfunctory issue, a thing of little importance, Timothy was admonished in a most serious way to preoccupy himself with it. Two years later, as death approached, in Paul’s final words to his beloved ‘child in the faith,’ he soberly charged Timothy in the presence of God Almighty to remain a faithful teacher of God’s word. “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His Kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season (i.e., all the time); reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” (2Timothy 4:1-2, emphasis added). Timothy was never instructed to put his doctrinal guard down, but instead to keep his theological vigilance keen so as to guard his people from the pernicious error of the enemy (2 Timothy 4:3-5) – Note: Timothy was the Pastor at Ephesus when Paul gave him these instructions. Consider the similar warning Paul gave the Ephesian elders many years earlier, Acts 20:28-32. Sadly, instead of encouraging Christians to drink in God’s truth many in today’s church (including some Pastors and leaders) are working overtime to convince people that what they truly need to grow and mature is found outside of the Bible. It seems at times that ‘theology’ and ‘doctrine’ (i.e., truth about God and His ways) have become dirty words. However, it is essential that we continually feed on God’s word which is the sum total of doctrine and theology. If the perfect Son of God believed that the words of His Father were more necessary than His daily food (Matthew 4:4), whatever gives us the idea that they are optional for us. And yet I frequently hear this sentiment echoing through the church. It takes several forms and it is evident in all traditions of Evangelical Christianity.