Monday, April 14, 2008

Is Doctrine Worth Dying For?

salzburg_martyrs It has been said by some, particularly those who would denigrate the need for theology and prepositional claims of truth, that Christians do not die for a set of doctrines but for a person; Jesus Christ.  There is a side to that which is correct.  But this is, by no means, completely accurate from either a biblical or historical perspective.  In 2 Timothy 1:8-14 Paul affirms that the gospel, the message of salvation based on historical facts, is worth dying for.  Our relationship with Jesus Christ is based on facts about what He did and who He is as revealed in the Bible.  This is theology, doctrine, whatever you want to call it.  In 2 Timothy 3, Paul reminds his protégé that the key to standing firm in the face of persecution is holding to solid teaching, not just drawing close to Jesus.  Relationship with Christ is important (no question there) but it cannot be separated from doctrine, regardless of what some would tell you today.  People will die for what they believe in.  They will not die for what they have doubts about.

I say this because there are those today who, in matters of Christian faith, confuse humility with uncertainty and conviction with close-mindedness.  We fear being rigid more than we fear being wrong.  We give the impression that doctrine doesn't really matter. "Just as long as we all love Jesus," is the joyful cry.

The problem is, as I read some of the writings of some of today's most popular teachers, that I am not sure that they are worshipping the same Jesus as I am.  They seem so fuzzy about the content of who He is and what He has done.  We do need to be reminded that just believing in "Jesus" is hardly sufficient (c.f. Galatians 1:6-10).  The gospel, as Paul reminds us, has content as to who He is and what He has done. Get it wrong and you are condemned (Galatians 1:10)

As we look at the testimonies of the martyrs throughout the centuries, it is also obvious that they were prepared to die for what they believed in, not just whom they believed in.  Relationship is based on knowledge.

One thing is certain; no one will die for something that they are not sure about. Given that, the new emergent call for inclusiveness, dialogue and theological "humility" cuts to the core of Jesus' call to take up the cross and follow Him regardless of the cost.

More thoughts on this later....


Matthew said...

This troubles me, too, whenever I read or listen to someone who questions or attacks the solid, basic doctrines of our faith, I wonder if they realize how offensive their message must sound to those who suffer every day because they won't compromise on these things that are of vital importance to our faith. Not to mention the fact that if the death and resurrection of Christ aren't historical realities, there is no power and indeed much fear left in death.

Glenn Penner said...

This is one of the reasons we started making available Charles Colson's latest book, The Faith. In his foreward, Colson asks, "“Would you give your life for a cause you didn’t fully understand? Would you try to convince someone else to join you? No, neither would I. Which is why I decided to write this book...”

alan said...

There was an uneasiness among my agreement with your post. With no desire to deny or minimize the importance of and the need for correct doctrine (there is no growth in the Lord along the line of untruth), I believe we are not called to suffer or die for doctrine in itself. Muslims kill and die for their doctrine, but there is no truth in that system; it lacks life.

I don't think I could die for the doctrine of election (even though I believe it wholly), but I could die for the Lord who chooses. Christ is the truth; the gospel is Christ.

There are many brothers and sisters who hold to doctrines as doctrines but have not come into the life and good of them. And I think it would be fair to say that most of the separations in the Lord's body in the world are along the line of doctrines being held rather than truth received. The Lord never called us to follow doctrine, but Him. One can follow doctrine but miss the Lord; often the Church has been the persecutor of the brethren. Whoever follows the Lord will also be brought into true doctrine.

Thanks for all your work on behalf of the persecuted; I always enjoy and am challenged by your posts.

Glenn Penner said...

Actually, Alan, the verses I mention in this blog (and I can mention a good number of others) do call us to follow doctrine even to the point to death, as do a number of others. Yes, one can follow doctrine and miss the Lord, but there is no following the true Lord without doctrine.

My concern is that we are making a distinction between doctrine and the Lord that the Bible doesn't.

Brian said...

Thanks for these words, Glenn. There are a lot of contemporary writings that, when I read them, make me feel a bit... uneasy. Nice, but uneasy, if that makes sense. I haven't been able to put my finger on some of it, but I think you're beginning to point it out here. I certainly don't know much about church history, but the little I understand suggests that the church has begun to swing pendulum-like from its cling-to-doctrine-to-the-exclusion-of-relationship now to all-is-well-if-only-you-have-Jesus claims. It still feels like something is missing, and I think that something is what you mention here -- taking up your cross and following Jesus. Sometimes that's not very comfortable. Often it seems confounding and even painful. Life-giving, yes. Life-changing, absolutely. But also demanding.

I certainly don't have a handle on that, but I appreciate your words here that speak to it. It is a serious call.

alan said...

Glenn, I agree that there is no distinction in the Bible between doctrine and the Lord and in fact we are to uphold sound teaching and to turn away from false teachers. My concern is the weak position in the Church that doctrine is, in practice, distinct from the Lord; that Bible teachings are taught and agreed to that have not meant the cross to the hearer and have not resulted in an increase of the measure of Christ in their life. My concern is doctrine held apart from Christ; doctrine held as a thing in itself. The doctrine is Christ… and the danger is that we will learn about Christ, rather than as Paul wrote in Ephesians 4, “learn Christ.”

In your travels and meeting with the persecuted, you have probably met many believers who know the Lord deeply and have a maturity in Him that exceeds many believers in the west, yet who would be considered theologically unsophisticated. Certainly there are many Christians who are full of correct doctrine who have very little measure of the Lord within. And doctrine, by itself, apart from the Lord, is very little comfort in the trials of life. Holding a belief in the sovereignty of God, merely as a point of agreement, pales to knowing a sovereign Lord who controls and orders circumstances and times and seasons and men’s hearts.

I hope that my previous post did not read to you (or others) that sound doctrine is inconsequential or somehow secondary. The post was against doctrine apart from Christ, and for a living doctrine that comes through the cross as we follow the Lord.

Glenn Penner said...

Very good points, Alan. I appreciate your clarification. I pretty much agree with on all points. I suspect that when many people think of doctrine, they think of something very technical (which has its value, of course). But all people have a theology, whether they wish to acknowledge it or not. How well developed it is will have a great impact on how they respond to things like persecution and suffering. This is why I have been working on a biblical theology of persecution for the past several years at the request and urging of persecuted Christians.

alan said...

Are you revising your previous book or writing something new? I hate to admit that I have not read the original one yet; I thought that it was on the theology of suffering. I know it was received well.

I'm involved with VOM here in the states - or has been said by some, lower Canada - and I have always been encouraged by believers who love in spite of their suffering, especially when they love their persecutors. I think they are the most clear and vital testimony and display of Christ.

The grace of Christ be with you in your writing.

Glenn Penner said...

I suspect that I will always be revising my previous work (In the Shadow of the Cross: A Biblical Theology of Persecution and Discipleship) to some degree; more a matter of finetuning and adding additional research than corrections though. I hope to write more though.

RJB said...

Upon reading your entry Glen I realized that I agree that the doctrine is worth dying for, but it should not be separated from knowing Jesus Christ, however I do not agree entirely that "relationships are based on knowledge" I understand that when learning about Christ through the scriptures, one must believe in them and hold fast to them to bring about an inward transformation where their perspectives and values change from selfish to selfless. Then that person will be able to say "to live as Christ, to die is gain." However, when talking about why someone chooses to die, it is important that the doctrine is not separated from Christ Jesus as if they were separate entities. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John1:1 & 14) These two scriptures indicates that Jesus is the word of God and how the word of
God became flesh. This leads me to my next point that relationships do not develop solely on knowledge but also with someone, a person-Jesus Christ. In Hebrew, the word knowledge is tied with head knowledge and intimacy, where to know someone requires physical contact and a closeness to the other person that involves more than just knowing about them or what they have said. Can I say that I know a famous movie star like Brad Pitt if I have never spoken with him or shared my feelings, hopes, and aspirations with him, could I still say that we have a relationship if I only know facts about Brad Pitt? Certainly not. Would our relationships last if we were content on just knowing what is said about them or what they said without sharing our hearts with the person and asking of them in return of their heart, wants, and desires? A relationship calls for correct knowledge about the other person, quality time invested, shared emotions, fears, laughs, desires, and promises of security with the other in order for a relationship to grow strong where one is at the point to give one's life for the other.

Overall, it is a close relationship with Christ and the belief in the Holy scriptures without doubt that enables a person to die for who and for what they believe in.

Glenn Penner said...

Can see why you say that you do not entirely disagree, rjb. I have never made a separation between Christ and doctrine (as my comments here have made quite clear and I have never suggested that knowing Christ is merely knowing facts about him. What I am speaking against are those who call us to have a relationship with Christ without propostional truths about him; contentless Christianity. Not baing sure of what is true or not, we take a leap and hope that grab onto Him. This is not faith, from a biblical perspective. Faith is believing God because His revelation about Himself is true.