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Doctrine is a Useful Distraction from Living

The whole Bible is for the church the book: we are people of the book. But by shifting the emphasis from an unspecified biblicism to a vision that shows how the church sees itself as that people, we avoid a dogmatic bibliolatry which could substitute attention to the book for participation in its life. This shift seems small; the consequences, though, momentous.

James William McClendon, JR., Ethics: Systematic Theology

biblicism – adherence to the letter of the Bible
bibliolatry – an excessive adherence to the literal interpretation of the Bible.

The Bible is not just a book to be studied; it is a book to be lived!

It is better to be known as a Christ-like person or church than “Bible-totin’, Bible-quotin'” people. Anyone can quote from the Bible, memorize a laundry list of doctrines, and claim to “rightly divide the word of truth,” but being “people of the book” is more than just memory work.

If we are to transform the world, it won’t come through quoting our favorite proof texts to show that we are “in” and everyone else it “out.” We must learn what it means to be a light to the world.

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

How does one become a light to the world?

By embodying Jesus’ teaching of the Sermon on the Mount.

The Sermon on the Mount starts by describing the type of people that make up the kingdom of God. What’s interesting is that some who I have encountered that emphasize correct interpretation over faith working through love do not appear to have the qualities of the beatitudes.

Instead of being poor in spirit, those who claim to be right about everything are arrogant.

“Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1).

They replace being gentle, humble, and meek with constant aggression, often citing the one time Jesus flipped over tables or called the people children of the Devil.

In writing on how to maintain unity, Paul explained,

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:1–3

Notice that Paul emphasizes walking in a worthy manner, not aligning oneself to a set of doctrines or some creed. The words he uses to describe what it takes to be united will seem foreign to many of us: humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, and love. No wonder there are so many divisions in the Church of Christ and similar denominations. These qualities are often totally absent when dealing with differences except so-called love.

We should talk about doctrine. We should study the Bible. It is one of my favorite things to do! But when we do it to the exclusion of faith working itself through love, we are actually going against God’s will. God’s will for us is to be people who are known for loving their neighbor, not for being Bible-totin’ and Bible-quotin’.

When we discuss doctrines among believers, we have to be sure that the qualities of humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, and love are always present. We should avoid continued conversation if those qualities aren’t present so that we can focus on first being the people God wants us to be. Then, and only then, should we count ourselves worthy to talk about doctrine.

If you can’t show someone you are Christ-like first, then you have no business debating, discussing, or teaching.

1 thought on “Doctrine is a Useful Distraction from Living”

  1. Daniel, you have, once more, caught the very heart of one of the biggest problems within the Christian community–BIBLIOATRY. John, one of the Twelve, left us a record of Jesus’ encounter with certain Jews concerning His true identity. Jesus informed these Jews that the Scriptures gave testimony about Himself. Jesus then rebuke these individuals: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life” (John 5:39). The Jews were guilty of bibliolatry. We witness the same type mentality among many Christians, especially within certain segments of the denominational Church of Christ. A classic example of citing Scripture out of context is found in Matthew 4:1-11. Within this context, Satan cited the Scriptures verbatim from the Septuagint to justify his requests to Jesus, but Jesus corrected him since he did not look at the intent of the original statement. We, too, can make the same mistake by simply citing Scripture to justify our beliefs. Many believers are guilty of bibliolatry. Daniel, you have unraveled the very heart of what Christianity is all about. I suggest that everyone should read and reread this short article.

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