Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Doctrines and salvation

I’m part of a male prayer group meeting every Wednesday morning, VERY EARLY! (Those who know me, also know that I’m not at my best at five in the morning!) The group consists of a variety of people, some more mature (both physically and spiritually) and others much younger (also both physically and spiritually). I admit that I have made the sacrifice to be there every Wednesday morning, mostly for the benefit of a group of men who have recently started on the road of faith.
This morning someone mentioned that a prominent South African rugby player will be visiting our town to share his testimony. To encourage the men to attend, he added: “This man is not concerned about doctrines. He’s only interested in serving the Lord.”
I’ve heard the same words or words to the same effect for thirty years or more. It seems as if people want to say that, if you are still an immature Christian, then you will be concerned about doctrinal issues. Once you’ve grown spiritually (received the Holy Spirit!), then you will no longer be concerned about doctrines.
I remember, shortly after I arrived in Swaziland in 1985, that one of the leaders in our church broke away from our church. He also used the argument that he no longer wanted to concern himself with doctrinal issues. The words he used was: “I take the Bible as it is.” Strangely enough, the reason why he broke away, was because of doctrinal differences, particularly regarding his understanding of the sacraments!
I respect people who say that they are not concerned about doctrines. But quite frankly, I don’t believe them. My understanding of salvation (which will probably be fairly close to that of the speaker mentioned) is based on doctrine. This is based on various discourses and explanations found in the gospels, the epistles of Paul as well as other parts of the Bible. Roman Catholicism, as other faiths such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, differ from my understanding about salvation. We differ, mainly because this is a doctrinal issue. All that anyone is saying, who tries to convince others that he is not concerned about doctrines, is that “he’s right, and he isn’t willing to discuss any possibility of being wrong.”
Paul was a theologian, even before he met God on the road to Damascus. He developed an immense understanding of doctrines and the law during his training as Pharisee. The problem with him, as with the other Pharisees exposed by Jesus, was that the laws and the doctrines were all that were important. The intimate relationship with God was exchanged for a life dictated by laws and doctrines which became more important than love for God and other people. After Paul came to repentance, he was still a theologian. Most of his epistles consist largely of theology (doctrinal issues). But what sets him apart from many theologians today, is that the doctrines which he developed became practical in the way in which he devoted his life to God, to the church and to other people. Doctrines enabled him to come closer to God, to understand God more.
I fully understand what people are trying to say when they maintain that they are not concerned about doctrine. But I do think we need to find a better way to formulate this. Not only is it not the truth, but it is also extremely judgmental. And it won’t help to draw people to Christ.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009 - Posted by | Building relations, Church, Evangelism, Grace, Mission, Swaziland, Theology


  1. We all know that one cannot divorce doctrines from theology or from our daily walk with God, one has only to consider the doctrine on the Trinity, or on salvation as Arnau has stated.

    The person perhaps meant that they are nor prepared to discuss / argue doctrines, or cannot / will not defend their faith based on the those same doctrines that they believe in. They however still believe in those doctrines, whether they care to admit it or not…

    Comment by Vince Aslett | Wednesday, June 24, 2009 | Reply

  2. I think the problem is when people have too large a circle of orthodoxy. Among people who love and faithfully follow Jesus there are many disputable doctrines (women in ministry, end time views, the sacraments just to name a few). I am grateful for the church fathers who hammered out the essentials in the form our shared creeds. Every church and denomination adopts a statement of faith which will spell out which doctrines are considered essential to their particular polity. And within the church universal, we should offer liberty to and be willing to work along side brothers and sisters who have different doctrinal viewpoints.

    For example, I lean toward Calminianism (you might say I’m confused), and have some theological differences with traditional reformed theology. However, since these doctrines are not within my circle of orthodoxy, it is easy for me to link arms in spiritual ministry with The Reformed Church of Swaziland.

    In fact, I can easily link arms in service with a group that embraces doctrines that conflict with my circle of orthodoxy (Mormon and Jehovah Witness come to mind). Note that I said SERVICE and not SPIRITUAL MINISTRY. We should be willing to work with anyone who has a heart for helping their neighbor, but should have caution when that help involves spiritual guidance.


    Comment by Wendi | Wednesday, June 24, 2009 | Reply

  3. Vince, thanks for your comment. I agree with you and you are actually emphasizing what I have tried to say myself, that we need to be mor truthful about what we mean when referring to doctrines.

    Wendi, I am becoming much more at ease to work with people from a wide theological background than I had been, say twenty years ago. I find that I am fairly comfortable in my own understanding of the most essential doctrines (not all, but most) and I seldom see any need for defending my own viewpoint, unless if I am asked to explain my own understanding.
    I think, when we are younger (spiritually), that we are more inclined to rush after every new teaching. When we become older, something of Ephesians 4:14 becomes true: “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”
    Obviously, there is a danger in this, that we are not open anymore for the prompting of God. And this is the problem with doctrines, that doctrines eventually determine what we believe and what we do and not the Spirit of God. Therefore there has to be a fine balance between the two.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, June 24, 2009 | Reply

  4. There is a problem with the kind of clisches that people use, very often quite unthinkingly. I’ve heard people in prayer meetings (even early morning ones!) telling God that we don’t think that race, colour or creed matter, and while I’m sire that God doesn’t think that race and colour matter as much as a lot of people in South Africa used to think, I’m not so sure about creed. I think it was just a cliche that trips so easily off the tongue. As someone once said “Make sure brain is engaged before putting mouth in gear.”

    Comment by Steve | Tuesday, June 30, 2009 | Reply

  5. Well said, Steve. I love that expression: “Make sure brain is engaged before putting mouth in gear.”

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, June 30, 2009 | Reply

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