Theology is tool we use as Christians to debate key issues and come to convictions for our lives, the church, and current issues. It is the process of researching and then thinking through all that the Bible has to say about a subject. It’s something we should do regularly–both by searching the Scripture ourselves and by listening to and learning from the studies others have done.
Doctrine is the term we give the conclusions or convictions we arrive at when we have done Theology. They are very important to our faith…but they are often the product of time, thought, and God’s work in our lives. The average person appreciates help and discussion on issues of doctrine, but cannot be brought into agreement by argument alone. We need to allow people time to arrive at the same conclusions we have through their own faith journey.
Doctrinal Issues have different implications, and thus different importance:
Core Issues are issues that if misunderstood, may keep someone from having a relationship with God through faith in Christ.
- For example: the belief that Jesus was not God’s Son, he was merely a wise teacher.
Important Issues are things that might severely hurt or hinder a Christian’s growth and faith, severely effect the church, culture, or world if they are not understood properly, for example:
- How we define human life determines whether abortion or euthanasia is acceptable or not. This completely changes the serious nature of a person’s actions.
- How we view the Bible determines a lot of what we believe, because the Bible is either an authoritative guide to faith convictions, or it is one of many guides and can be ignored when someone disagrees and can find a good excuse to ignore it.
Trivial Issues are mostly matters of tradition or strategy. They involve the way we act our beliefs more than the beliefs themselves. For example:
- Baptism is an important issue, but how we baptize people is trivial. Almost every church does a form of child dedication and a form of adult confirmati0n. Church’s choose to baptize at one or the other events for different, Biblical reasons. Both still honor both key moments of decision, they simply choose to put the water in a different place. Ultimately the difference in tradition does not usually impact someone’s faith journey significantly.
- Calvinism v. Arminianism – 2,000 years of debate has gone into the discussion regarding how much credit belongs to God for our salvation and how much free choice human being experience. Rarely do the issues and facts in this debate radically transform a person’s faith walk. More often people grow confused, distracted, and angry.
What do we do with Theology and Doctrine?
- We study to ground our faith and grow spiritually.
- We explain to help believers and to help the world understand our position, but always with the hope and strategy we can bring them to faith.
- We dialog with other believers about different beliefs to foster cooperation, always with the more important things in focus
- We contest with those who would corrupt the core and important faith.