Tag Archives: doctrine

Reading Between the Lines

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”
― Lewis CarrollThrough the Looking Glass Continue reading

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The Litmus Test

Recently I had a “conversation” with one of our local seminary professors and occasional teacher of our Discipleship group regarding the Trinity.  In a recent class she taught regarding her specialty, Old Dead Guys (Edwards, Luther, Calvin, etc.) she made a comment that seemed to indicate if one did not believe in the Trinity then they were not a Christian.

If you follow this blog you’ll know I took exception to that idea. Not because I don’t believe in the Trinity but because adding orthodoxy as a litmus test of personal faith is problematic. So, I asked her about her comment via email.  She confirmed my understanding and explained that belief in the Trinity was so important to proper orthodoxy that men were willing to die for it. Continue reading

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Truth vs Fact

Ask any attorney or law enforcement official and they will tell you that many times eye witnesses are not reliable witnesses. What they have witnessed may indeed be true but it may not be true to the actual event based on the facts. 

What I believed I experienced in my childhood may be true based on what I know or remember, but it may not be fact. Even some events in adulthood may fall in that same category.

When talking to my son about the circumstances leading up to the separation between his mother and I, those circumstances have often been confused between what his mother and I believe to be the truth and what the actual facts may have been.

In a recent article by Chuck Colson in CT (Doctrine Bears Repeating, CT, April 2009, 72),he talks about “today’s biblically illiterate church” when it comes to basic doctrine and beliefs.  He goes on to say, “The most obvious things to be said about Christianity is that it rests on historical facts: the Creation, the Incarnation, and the Resurrection.”  Then he adds, “Since our doctrines are truth claims, they cannot be symbolism.”  I would contend that they cannot necessarily be facts either. They can be “truth claims” but ascribing them to facts may be a characterization without support (not popular support mind you, but factual support).

I’m not certain that anyone can claim a basis of fact for the creation outside primary truth claims. The creation story is what we believe to be true based on the biblical record. Or based on the fact that God’s word is true.  The same would apply to the incarnation and the resurrection. Perhaps, the resurrection can come closest to “fact” because of the numerous witnesses who encountered the resurrected Christ. Even then, to submit it as fact, may be more than anyone can absolutely attest to outside the biblical record.

This is important because it goes to the heart of doctrine and beliefs. Every religion, even evangelicalism, is based on historical truths and doctrines that find their root in those truths. However, not everyone subscribes to them equally.  Does that make the doctrine or the beliefs emanating from those doctrines fact?  Perhaps not. Much of the primary doctrine for evangelicals is based on faith not fact.  If it were strictly, or even mainly factual then detractors would have no substantive basis for their disbelief or their disingenuous observations.

Perhaps a good example is the Holocaust. Despite all the factual evidence for the “event”, there are some today who say that it did not happen and that it is purely a fabrication by Jews or Jewish sympathizers.  It is the same thing with flying to the moon or mars. I have told my wife on several occasions that the whole thing is not true. We’ve never been to the Moon or Mars. What they show you on television and report on the radio and in newspapers is all being done in some warehouse out in a remote desert. That may be a truth claim from an observer, however it may not be fact.

Now I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Colson, his ministry and his mission. Nevertheless, confusing doctrinal principles based on historical fact is perhaps more than might be warranted. His premise about “historical truth” however is certainly factual.  Doctrine has its roots deep in historical truth. Truth based on scripture, which however much we want it to be true, has certainly found its own detractors and those who would strip it of its veracity.

Truth versus fact is no trivial matter. Truth can be factual and facts can be true, but we might want to be cautious on when and where we combine the two.

Heb 11:1-3 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

 

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Moments in Time

There are certain “moments in time” that one expects to see as a forever part of their lives. Not necessarily epiphanies, although I’m sure that may be the case, but regular moments when you get caught up in the excitement and almost surreal nature of the experience.  I had one of those moments today.

My wife and I teach a new members group for our church. Alice, my wife, was instrumental in getting it organized and laying out the “curriculum” for it. I’ve been a teacher/helper along with some others. Part of my role is to teach sessions on certain church ordinances, the “Baptist Faith & Message”, gifting and a couple other things.

This mornings class was focused on what is a Southern Baptist and Southern Baptists compared with other baptists and certain doctrines outlined in the Baptist Faith and Message. What made everything special was the excitement and energy of people opening their hearts and minds to explore and think about things they may have made assumptions about for a good deal of their lives. Some in our class, Southern Baptists for thirty, forty or more years were opening their minds and hearts to realize that some of what they knew was not really what they knew.

Let me explain that last statement. Much of learning takes place simply by coming to the realization that we know what we don’t know and have a certain freedom in that not knowing. Not only that, but realizing that we don’t know will free us to begin to learn and know. Not simply because someone tells us something, but because we’ve examined it for perhaps the first time and now have an “ah ha” moment.  Those, my friend, are moments in time to cherish.

Myself, I enjoy learning and stretching my mind around new ideas and concepts. Either that, or closely examining something I’ve thought I knew and attempt to come to terms with its strength or weakness as an idea. But….when I get to share those moments with others – well, that’s simply hard to beat.

Life is short. Too short to not be learning. Therefore, I think I’ll use today as a springboard for tomorrow. Perhaps, I’ll stumble across another moment in time.

Ain’t life grand!

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Principle or Pragmatism

In a recent email from Ligonier Ministries, R C Sproul writes about “Principle vs Pragmatism“.  When I finished reading it I thought, “there seems to be something missing.” It did not seem reasonable to think the only task of the Board at a Christian institution “was to guard the priority of the doctrine of the institution.”  It seems the priority of the Board would be to guard the truth.

Truth is often both principled and pragmatic. Truth is many times at odds with doctrine. Even Jesus recognized that when he admonished his followers to exhibit a righteousness that exceed that of the religious teachers of the day (Matt 5:20). They may have had their doctrine correct, but it was far from the truth of what God was expecting.

Both Jesus and the apostle Paul were pragmatists. Jesus was fond of using very pragmatic ideas and illustrations (parables) to get his point across regarding truth and the kingdom of God. Paul, when necessary, found it both expedient and practical to become “all things to all men (1Cor 9:22).” Principles are great and it is wise to have them as life guides as we grow and develop. However, being pragmatic has its place as well. Holding to a truth without understanding why or what that truth means has little if any value. Seeking truth, even when it seems at odds with longstanding traditions/doctrines, means we are open to what God is saying – then, now, and perhaps in the future. That does not mean that God changes what is true, it simply means our understanding of what is true changes.

In a recent group discussion I introduced the concept of women in ministry. I asked the question why Southern Baptists are unwilling to have women in key positions of leadership, ministry, or teaching. One member of the group said rather bluntly, “they are legalistic.” Now that may be so. I, to some degree, suspect it is. However, other Baptist churches and other evangelical denominations have women in key positions of ministry. So is one position true over another? Or has one simply succumb to pragmatism – not enough men to serve, so recruiting women solves the problem.

I read recently regarding one man’s definition of philosophy – “everything is more complicated than we originally thought.” Truth is often more complicated than we think. Indeed, truth is truth but that does not mean that everyone or anyone possesses the foundation of truth. It might be true, that God created, but did he in fact create only as we understand it in the Genesis account?  Did he create mankind or a man and a women? If we hold to one position and new and credible information comes along, are we open to making a new decision regarding that truth? Do we hold to a position regarding the age of the earth as young, 10,000 years or perhaps less, when science seems to dictate that earth is much older than that.  Is science contrary to God? Will everything fall apart if the evidence is believed and the earth is a million years old or older?

Holding to principles is a good thing. Being pragmatic, when required, is also a good thing. If our principles are shielded with blinders and we cannot see new “truth” when it presents itself, does that mean the principle is flawed, our thinking is flawed, or there could not be “new truth”? Or, has the doctrine been set.  Growing in Christ and in the “knowledge of God” does not mean we hold to truth even when it is no longer true. Paul and Barnabas had that discussion with the leadership of the Church of Jerusalem regarding circumcision (Acts 11-15). Where would we be today if the Jerusalem council would have said, “We have principles! We cannot abandon circumcision and other aspects of the Law, it would be a violation of the truth.” I suspect the Christian landscape would have looked much different and Paul’s journeys scuttled. Instead, pragmatism was the order of the day, not in violation of the truth, but in furtherance of the truth.

High-horses might be good for riding over others, but getting bucked off is no picnic.


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