Monday, May 31, 2010

Right When I Am Wrong

How does God correct us when we fall into error? On a personal level we can think of many times when we had our thinking about some aspect of the faith corrected. It might happen through a sermon, through personal devotions, or through a bible study. Often it is the combination of scripture and another Christian. But what about errors in the church? What if some error is shared by your faith community? Could that happen? Now when I was a protestant I really believed the answer was basically No. The people I knew were such impressive Christians. But the fact was that there were other groups of impressive Christians teaching some very different doctrines. So either they were in error or we were in error. Was there a good reason to assume it could not be my church making the mistakes? Beside, I didn't believe my church was infallible so I had to accept it was at least possible there were errors.

Now there are 3 possible answers to this question:
  1. My church might be wrong but it does not matter because it is only about minor matters.
  2. My church is not wrong and other churches do not agree with it because they are defective in some way.
  3. My church is not wrong and other churches do not agree with it because God has not given them the same light He has given us.
The first one is mostly wishful thinking. It is what you tell yourself when you want to ignore the question but it does not stand up to scrutiny. Are all differences about minor matters? What is a minor matter? You could lean on salvation by faith alone and assert that the content of that faith was unimportant. What mattered was your heart. It didn't matter if I believed  in ordination of women or infant baptism as long as I accepted Jesus as my saviour. But what about premarital sex or abortion? Does that not mean liberal Christianity is somehow a valid option? I didn't believe that but what not?

At the end of the day faith had to matter. We needed to reorder our lives around what we believed. Can we really then say we are unsure of the truth of those very principles? I was doing teen ministry. Could I tell a teen that he should embrace chastity and sobriety because that was God's will for his life. That the constant message from the culture that drinking and sex were the best things in life was just a lie. Then could I tell him I was not really sure about those very teachings? That they were minor matters about which Christians disagreed?

So what were the major doctrines? Could we be sure we were right even about those? No. If we were we would be asserting a doctrine of infallibility. We didn't want to go there. But assume we solved this problem. Assume we knew what the major doctrines that defined the faith were and that we were confident we were right about them. I had some pretty strong ideas. I didn't have an objective criteria to get me there but I knew roughly where I should end up. Just assume that place was right and move on.

That leads us to response #2 and #3 which I will address in another post.

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