I’ve struggled for at least a year now with the necessity of detailed doctrinal statements. A big part of the reason for the struggle is that the particularity of doctrine doesn’t seem to traslate readily into behavior. So we can end up with situations where a person is required to believe that Jesus was and is fully God and fully human in order to be a member of a church, but that same person can wholesale reject the clear teaching of Jesus to love others (including enemies) in their behavior and it has no impact on their standing in the church. Somehow doctrine has become the watershed for Christian faith (at least in the evangelical church).
I’m reading Transforming Mission right now and one of the sections in the book got me thinking about this again.
“The various church councils were intent on producing definitive statements of faith; their formulations were conclusive and final rather than references to the ineffable. The unity of the church was regulated by crutinizing people according to whether or not they subscribed to these formulas. Those who did not were excluded by means of anathemas. A comparison between the Sermon on the Mount and the Nicene Creed confirms the point. The former outlines a mode of conduct without any specific appeal to a set of precepts. The entire tenor of the Sermon is ethical; it is devoid of metaphysical speculation. The latter, in contrast, is structured within a metaphysical framework, makes a number of doctrinal statements, and says nothing about the believer’s conduct.”
In many circles even raising the issue of the necessity (or lack thereof) of doctrinal statements amounts to heresy. We are convinced that without them we will reap a church of heresy. Would we? Or do we just want to control what people believe. Or perhaps a better way to put it is, if we held each other to following the words and directions of Christ, would our doctrine naturally fall in line?