A few days ago, I threw out an aphorism on Facebook. Perhaps it was food for thought for some deliberative believers, or perhaps I just wanted to stir the pot. It seems a bit of both happened:
Doctrine can become vanity, a self-indulgent exercise to escape the hard work of following.
A disclaimer here: My professional training is as a theologian. To no small degree, my livelihood is doing doctrine.
But I am also called to live within the context of a world of people that Christ loves, andthat he calls me to love, too. I am called to be a follower of Christ, and doctrine must be part of doing the work of Christ. Indeed, the people I see doing the hard work of following care deeply about what they believe. I do not know how to be a follower without being a believer.
But at the same time . . .
Far, far too often, belief, doctrine, becomes an intellectual exercise totally divorced from caring from the widow, loving the orphan, feeding the hungry, sharing the Goods News that death has been conquered. We get a religion “fix” not in service to others, but inwinning an esoteric debate. May I suggest to you that orthopraxy—living the right way—is every bit as important as orthodoxy—believing the right way?
I want to tread carefully here, because it would be very easy for you to hear something I am not saying. So let me be clear: Belief is important, and what we believe is critically important. But it is not an end to itself. Never. In fact, whenever doctrine became the centerpiece (as is evident in1 Corinthians), the Church fell into disarray. The Church thrived when its focus was service. Look at Acts 2.47: And God daily added to their number..
In the New Testament, belief does not complete the relationship with Christ. Without exception, belief is always the overture, the preparation for following. James says it this way: You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? (James 2:20) The ministry of Christ and the re-creation of that ministry in the Acts of the Apostles always placed proclamation and theological discourse in the context of caring for the needs of the peripheral people of their world. Becoming a community of followers means that we do the same.