This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Doctrine is a guide to practice

I am wondering if the whole point of doctrine is as a guide to practice.

Surely doctrine cannot be an end in itself. This is the fallacy of those who would make cognitive assent to certain doctrines tantamount to faith. Or the assumption that doctrines are framed propositions which summarize the essential truths found in Scripture. Then cognitive assent to these truths is tantamount to faith.

Clearly faith is not merely propositional in the sense that it is just a matter of mental agreement to a set of facts. Faith is better understood as "trust" in that it involves the whole person and actual, bodily commitments and actions.

Therefore, to have faith or to believe has to do with more than something that happens in your brain; it has to do with something that has extension into the world in our practices and actions.

Among the plethora Scripture passages which support this understanding I present two of my favorites: Jesus says that it is not those who say "Lord, Lord," who inherit the Kingdom of God but those who do the will of my father in heaven. And the parable of the two brothers who were requested by their father to work in the field. One assented, but later didn’t actually go to the field; the other refused, but later actually did go to the field. Obviously, it was the one who did the work, not the one who merely talked the talk, who did the father’s will.

Practice, lifestyle, actions, what we do: this is the point of Christian faith. If it serves any purpose then theological doctrines must relate to practice. They must guide and inform correct — that is, effective, fruitful, faithful — practice. Practice that actually reflects and brings the practitioner and others closer to the Kingdom of God.

The basic doctrines of Christianity, such as the Trinity and the dual natures of Christ, are not just descriptive about a truth that is irrelevant or immaterial to practice. They have to guide and inform practice. That is in fact why we have them. Not to think of the faith in these ways leads to bad practices which do not reflect the Kingdom of God.

The simple idea that the universe is created by God leads to a whole set of attitudes which govern practice and our activity in the world. To wit: the creation is good, the creation is not identical with God, we are part of creation, the creation belongs to God and should be addressed with the respect and awe accorded the property of another which we are graciously allowed to use, etc.

This and other inferences from the doctrine that says God created the universe lead people and communities to live in certain ways and to reject other ways of living. The creation is not an indifferent, amoral, object we may dispose of as we please. It is not an evil prison in which we are trapped from which we need to escape. And so forth.

The gathered community of believers then needs to take the doctrine and, always holding it up to the standard of the Word of God, Jesus Christ (another doctrinal commitment itself), measure and evaluate our individual and communal practice. Do our actions reflect this thing we claim is true? Do we live in the world as if God created it and gave it to us as stewards? Do we cherish and respect the creation and everything in it as Christ did? Where do we fall short in this effort and how do we improve?

This is just one example examined very perfunctorily. The point is that doctrine is a guide to practice.

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