On Too Much Importance On Doctrines And Creeds
I find it tiresome when silly people tell me they do not go to church
because they do not like the
doctrines or creeds! What nonsense! Creeds are like church buildings:
you may find God in them,
but you do not have to like or approve of the architecture of the
building where you find God.
A creed or a doctrine is an arrangement of words like a building is an architecture of stones. Words are like stones. Sometimes they are used to throw at others. And words like stones can be arranged to make a place to go to worship God, but no stones or words can be so arranged as to keep God out. “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.” (Romans 8:35) Sometimes the Spirit blows through the cracks.
Do not be kept away from a personal relationship with God in the churches, because the arrangement of the words in the doctrines and words do not fit the measurements of your grace. You may not be totally pleased with the architecture of what is there, but God is still available there. And to worship with others should be a pleasure for it is a sharing of faith.
It is such a shame the words of creed and doctrines have been crafted into stones to throw at each other, yes, and to keep some away. The creeds were made to order the confused, but now they often are more confusing than ordering. Besides they deal with a mystery. What is more confusing than ordering a mystery? God is a mystery. Meant for clarity, the doctrines and creeds often confuse where they should make clear. Made to help worshippers gather together, they now keep many of those disagreeing away. This is not right and very ungodly, because to worship God, you do not have to understand God. It may be better if you do not. Clarity can overshoot the mark, because it is a mystery, and mysteries are not clear. If people want to leave some things a mystery, why not?
We know the work of God is not made by hands. (Romans 5:1), nor is the perfect word of God formed by mortal minds through dumb words. We know a lot but that lot is a little since God is “dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto: whom no man hath seen, nor can see.” (I Timothy 6:16)
Many churches would tell you they know it all. I assure you in Christ they do not. If you have to live with some insecurity about things, what else is faith? It is things hoped for, “the substance of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) The churches do not have all the answers. Do not expect them to. But have them leave some room for the Holy Ghost since believers shall receive it. (Acts 2:38) Bigotry and a closed mind leave little room for the Holy Ghost to maneuver. They do not allow for any brave new winds of the Spirit to blow fresh air through.
Some of the corruption of the Western churches is they have wanted their creeds to be seen as the last word of God rather than an expression of God. But the scripture tells us God is more than we know. So as the Apostle says, “we know in part and we prophesy in part...and now we see through a glass darkly. (I Corinthians 13: 9-11)
So we know a part and that through a glass darkly. However, the churches tend to try to be know-it-alls. This drives healthy minded people off. But remember the test of God is a personal relationship with Him. This can happen regardless of the building, the creed, the doctrine which you are in or surrounded by. Should a setting for God be made into something to squabble over and drive people off?
You may argue that those not believing in certain creeds or doctrines may not be saved hereafter. Who can violate the secrets of God? That is not for me or you to judge, but you should know that there are big people in spirit who want something besides personal immortality out of religion. The selfish ones seeking God only for personal immortality do not really grasp what God is all about. They do not have the right motivation to seek Him.
The good church is made up of “praisers,” the sheep, and “wanters,” the goats. The “praisers” give but the “wanters” are there to get what they can get. The “praisers” give God praise for His goodness in our creation and the mercy of His atonement. But the “wanters” are in churches for selfish reasons, and they want plenty. They try to bargain with God, dictate to God, and make bargains with God. Only God laughs. (Now personal immortality for Christians is true. It is a very real fringe benefit of a personal relationship with God and salvation in Christ, but that is not the right reason to be a Christian. It is a selfish reason to be a Christian. But God can change selfishness into transforming grace as we are told in Genesis 50:20 where God turned evil motives to good use.)
Or should we say the churches are only for those who believe as we do? No, the church is a place for believers and non-believers to find grace and share God. It is a center for renewal of the mind and soul. It is a place to affirm life. It is not supposed to be a club of believe-alikes from the same class, but a place of grace for all peoples of non-belief. It should be gracious not just to those who believe the creed as some do, or accept the doctrines we do, but especially for those who do NOT believe as we do, nor think as we do.
Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17) Can the church do less? Are the saints here only for the saints? No, the church is here for the saints and the sinners, for those who believe and those who have not seen their way to it. Are we in grace only to serve others in grace? No, but we are called and set apart to be the instruments of grace. Serving only those like us is karma, but serving those not like us is grace transforming karma. Always the churches must say to the Lord, “we do not have enough non-believers. We do not have enough sinners. Such is our work to serve. Lord, send us more.” Is the church not to fulfill its purpose? Then may the Lord shut the doors.
Let us hope future Christianity in the East will not repeat the mistakes of the West, that people lose the mystery of God through a creedal literalism that causes them to fight and in-fight over creeds and doctrines. Religions often in-fight over the right setting for God, instead of offering a personal relation with God, regardless of the setting. Yet their fighting over the settings of God shows they do not know the Spirit of God. We test the presence of the Spirit of God through the fruits of the spirit as shown in Galatians 5:22.: love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, meekness, goodness, faith.
We see where God is by the fruits of grace. And the presence of grace is seen by a display of the fruits, of grace, not by mumbling and repeating the literalized creeds and earth crafted doctrines on Sunday mornings. Our settings for God are literal and intellectual. But a relationship with God is spiritual. The spiritual will not ever be held fully captive by the literal mind. God is not a magic formula. God cannot be enclosed in any box whether the box is a building, a creed or a doctrine.
A personal relationship with God can be started anywhere. Do not forget the place God can be found is anywhere. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:35) A descriptive creed about God is not God and will not serve as a substitute for God. You err if you mistake things about God for the reality of God. There are many things of God and from God, but God you must reach for on your own to have a personal relationship with. Are you doing this? If not, get down to the basics of faith. That is a personal relationship with God. You will know when you have it, if you test it by love and grace.
Creeds may be nice, but they are not enough.. Doctrines may secure you in faith, but they are not enough. Only the reality of God will do. Get down to the basics. Until you establish a personal relationship with God, it is all baggage, and cultural baggage at that, so get down to God and a relationship with Him. Why dress up in theology when you have no place to go? If you have a creed but no God, you have an empty house. But if you start a relationship with God, you can make a temple for Him in your heart.
Many churches of today offer salvation through creeds and formulary slight of hand, but not God. They know second hand creeds by heart, but they do not suggest knowledge of God first hand. Yet it is the reality of Christ behind the creed that illuminates the creed. Why talk creeds without God? So I suggest pushing creeds and doctrines to the back burner and get down to the basic need of faith: God and a relationship with Him.
That is the heart and soul of our advocating an evangelical faith: a personal relationship with God: slow or fast, dramatic or quietly done by an inner light, or a still small voice, blinded by grace at Damascus or slowly growing in grace. But what is needed is a relationship with God. The type of relationship is not specified and varies widely, but a personal relationship with God is necessary.
We cannot fix the problem of faith and values anywhere or everywhere until we go to a personal relationship with God for everyone. Not all will have it, of course, but enough may have it to make a difference. So I call you to a spiritual revolution: one by one.
After all any creed without a personal knowledge of God is put up or a pretence. So don’t worry about creeds, doctrines and theology. Simplify. Simplify. Head for a relationship with God to illuminate your life and your family life. A creed is but a stained glass window seen at night. Only a personal relationship with God will illuminate it. Have you had that illuminating relationship? Only then should we talk about the importance of creeds and doctrines.
Is it not time you began by asking God for a illuminating relationship with Him? Pray. Pray for the conversion and illumination of yourself, your family, your community, America and what is more important, the world. Ask that “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” (Revelation 22:21)
Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.