According to Diana Butler Bass, (Christianity after Religion) the word doctrine actually means a “healing teaching.” It derives from the French word for “doctor.” That is one of the coolest things I have read in a while. How ironic that something that is supposed to bring healing has through the centuries been something that has brought about division within the church. Another story for the file “Adventures in Missing the Point.”
I understand the need for correct doctrine. There have been plenty of ridiculous ideas passed off as God’s will. Without a faith that is grounded in the truth we invariably end up with a faith that is more about our comfort, our desires and our will being done than it is about God. Or even worse, we end up creating a god who hates the same people we do. Our history bears this out time and time again.
Earlier today I read (yet another) gut-wrenching article written by a young woman who no longer considers herself a Christian. She was abused by a church that had a false understanding of God. I so wish that I could tell her that I reject the same things she rejects. The stuff she had to deal with were not the things of God. They were the result of bad doctrine combined with arrogance and self-righteousness.
We need scholars. We need serious study of the Scriptures. We need honest, enlightening prayer. We need humility. When we enter a broken world with the Gospel we need to make sure it really it the Good News that we are telling. We need to get it right.
But, I am also weary of the way some Christians fight over doctrine. I am not saying we shouldn’t have doctrinal discussions and debates. I am all for those. But, I am over the fighting. I am over the insinuations and the “zingers” and the unforgiveness. There was a time in my life, when I was much younger, when I was up for a good theological fight. I was armed with a seminary education and I could read enough Greek and Hebrew to be dangerous. I know the feeling of pride and superiority that can come with winning the argument. I know the anger and resentment of not winning. I like to think I have become wiser and more compassionate, at least on my good days.
St. Augustine wrote, “in essential beliefs we have unity. In non-essential beliefs we have freedom. In all our beliefs we show charity.”
That pretty well sums it up for me. Most of the divisions that I have witnessed have been over the non-essential beliefs anyway. They have escalated due to a lack of charity or love.
Isaiah dreamed of a day when we would turn our swords into farming implements. We would have peace instead of war. Maybe one day we will turn our arguments into “healing teachings.” Then we will have doctrine that is a foundation for the church instead of a wrecking ball. I long for that day.