What is your Theology?
What is your Theology?
Orthodoxy in Christian theology has been measured by many different things. Volumes have been written to fill libraries and debates that have fractured whole nations have been a part of holding to and clarifying these basic ideas. Much of the controversy is justified. Theology is important. What we believe determines how we behave. Yet, it is a sad and unfortunate reality that many Christians will create untold strife and discord over matters that are of secondary theological importance. We love to make mountains out of mole-hills when it comes to theology.
At the school of evangelism we place great value upon The Apostle Paul teachings to “keep the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace”, to “esteem others better than yourselves”, as well as to “above all have fervent love between one another”. These verses and many similar ones, should temper our theological studies and how we communicate and discuss them, particularly with our brothers and sisters with whom we may disagree. After all, the practice of our Christianity is of just as great importance as our affirmation of a particular creed or theological position. In the words of 19th century evangelist Charles Finney, “the church is mighty sticklish about correct doctrine, but awfully loose about correct practice.” He went on to describe how many would not allow someone behind their pulpit who didn’t subscribe to the Trinity or denied the resurrection, yet we readily fill our pulpits with men who are clearly eaten up with pride, vanity, cowardice and many other blatantly ungodly characteristics, which are in many ways an even greater denial of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul, when describing the qualifications of elders or deacons in the pastoral epistles of Timothy and Titus does not mention any theological litmus test (though, I think we can reasonably assume that there was a creed of which one being considered for such office would have already given assent to) but rather lists in detail everything to do with character and integrity of practice. How is their behavior? Is their character tested and proven to be solid? Will they give in to the temptations of lust, drink, greed, self-glory, etc. that shipwreck the leadership of so many of our churches. Unfortunately today those qualifications are some of the last things dealt with in our Bible colleges and seminaries, and rarely sought after amongst congregations seeking leaders. Administrative skills, speaking ability, and business sense have replaced much of Paul’s “qualifications”. Surely it is no surprise that we see American Christianity plagued with it’s current distresses. Now, it is true that what you believe will determine how you live, and thus theology, one’s beliefs about God, is extremely important. But men can fake it, what they say they believe is not always what they actually believe. If Joe says he believes x,y,z yet his behavior is consistently the opposite of x,y,z then Joe probably doesn’t believe x,y,z, no matter how much he may say he believes x,y,z. Looking at one’s practice is thus all the more important than looking at what one professes to believe.
So what do you believe?
I want to stress again that a humble disposition is vital to one’s theological undertakings. The more one studies theology the more one realizes they have a lot to learn and that there are many, many nuances and complexities to serious theological study. We should not be quick to label others heretics or divide over theological differences. All of that being said, we believe that there are at least two essential theological categories which define “major” doctrines that one must hold to if they are to be called a brother or sister in Christ; a correct perception of the nature and character of God, and a correct perception of how we attain a relationship with Him.
By correct perception of God I am referring to several basic attributes and qualities that the Bible ascribes to Him, which distinguish our understanding of our Creator from many of the idols that have been concocted in the imaginations of men throughout the centuries. Things like, God’s holiness, His love, and His rationality are important characteristics to understanding our Creator. There are also things like His being all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), and ever-present (omnipresence), that would go into a proper understanding of God’s nature. We would also include the Incarnation of Christ, God becoming man and God’s Trinitarian nature. These are complex matters and although one certainly doesn’t need to have a perfect or complete knowledge of these things to be a Christian, to be redeemed and to have a place in heaven, they are vitally important in properly defining Christianity.
The second vital doctrine is that of salvation, how we come into right relationship with God. There is much more disagreement on this matter than on the previous and this is where we want to aim the focus of this article. Christian theologians can be divided into two major camps, those who place some degree of works as necessary to compliment Christ’s atoning death on the cross, and those who see Christ’s atoning death on the cross as wholly sufficient to justify man in God’s sight. We believe that ascribing certain “good works” as a part of how one attains God’s forgiveness, be it baptism, sacraments, feeding the poor, giving to the church, catechism, confirmation, or any other thing is heresy. Martin Luther helped to spark the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century when he proclaimed the Apostle Paul’s simple words, “the just shall live by faith”. From this came the phrase “justification by faith alone”, or Sola Fide. This simply means that what Christ did on the cross is sufficient in atoning for our sins, completely. If we come to God in repentance and faith, He can forgive us, without us having to do anything but simply bow our hearts to Him and believe. There is nothing meritorious on our part. “Not by works of righteousness that we have done but according to His mercy He saved us.” Titus 3:5.
We should not be quick to divide with others, nor should we be unnecessarily harsh or excessively quarrelsome while discussing and even debating doctrine and theology, but there are lines to draw in the sand. Balance here is crucial as is distinguishing essential doctrines from non-essential and maintaining a spirit of gracious and charitableness, even in our disagreements.