Earlier I fell victim to the 140 character limit on Twitter and fired off a tweet that read, “Make right doctrine our pursuit and we’re likely to become sectarians; make following Jesus our pursuit and we’ll always be his church.”
Perhaps the tweet was ill-advised because I assumed others would understand what I meant which turned out not to be the case with everyone. Consequently I received some healthy pushback. In the aftermath, I explained that by right doctrine I was implying the dogma that defines a local church that gets classified as doctrine.
With that in mind, let me clarify a bit further what I am trying to get at.
As Christians, we are called to be followers (disciples) of Jesus. That seems to imply that we are learning how to live and love as Jesus did. As I have reflected more on what it takes for us to live and love as Jesus did in our own particular contexts, I have become convinced that this requires of us to share the same beliefs and values that Jesus shared. Learning these beliefs and values is the task of practical theology so that Christian faith is expressed both as confession and practice. The result is the development of a doctrine based on the scripture and tradition (perhaps reason and experience too) for our particular church community.
That is entirely different from dogma. For some Christians/churches, the expression of Christian faith morphs into dogma so that their particular understanding of faith becomes the only possible understanding. That is, there is not any possibility for another understanding. When this happens the particular dogma becomes the object of faith as well as the standard by which adjudication is made on everyone else who professes to be a disciple of Jesus. More importantly, when this happens, we seem to lose sight of Jesus. Instead of Jesus being the object of faith in whom we strive to follow, our dogma becomes that which we expend our efforts to maintain and defend (and dammed be anyone who dares to question otherwise). An example of such dogmatic thinking exists in most of the comments made on this Christian Chronicle article.
This is why I posted my original tweet and I later posted another tweet that read, “A clarification: We can’t follow Jesus without doctrine and church but neither doctrine nor church must become the object of faith. Agree?”
So here’s my thing. I am a follower of Jesus and that is all I want to be. As one called to the vocation of preaching and ministry, I want to serve in that capacity in order to help the church I serve follow Jesus as well. As we learn to follow Jesus together, I want us to be a church entering into the world as a people who are inviting and hospitable so that people can be among us experiencing God’s presence and discovering grace as they come to faith and learn to follow Jesus as well.
I have a hunch that this is the sort of church many of my colleagues want to serve with and are tired of churches who value dogma over everything else. It is also the sort of church many of our Christian college students want to be a part of. I have a further hunch that the reason some are pursuing this way of being church outside the “Church of Christ” brand, is because they are tired of being restricted by dogma, among other reasons, which they don’t believe has any merit.
I’m thinking out loud about this…so let me ask, what do you think?