Protecting Doctrinal Turf

There’s a church I drive by pretty regularly. They have a quite prominent sign, and on the front of their building they have a list of doctrinal positions held by their church. I used to think it was a singularly unwelcoming sort of thing to put on the front of a church. During Hurricane Ivan, all the signs were apparently damaged by the wind and removed.

Just today, I drove by and saw that the signs have been put up again. Here’s how they read:

Fundamental Evangelistic
Missionary Pre-Millenial
Independent Traditional
KJV 1611 KJV 1611

Yes, KJV 1611 is there twice.

Now this church, which I will not name, has every right to believe what they want and to put whatever they want on the front of their church. But by putting on the front of the church, they are projecting a message, and I got to thinking about just what that message was.

Most Christians would notice a few missing items, I think. The word Jesus doesn’t occur. There’s nothing about God’s love, reconciliation, salvation, forgiveness, or service. I don’t imagine that’s for lack of space. They could, for example, have replaced one of the “KJV 1611” entries with “We love you” or “Grace is wonderful” or perhaps just “Forgiven!” But even so, I would have to wonder about their priorities. Somehow, the essence of that church has been boiled down to these eight entries, one of them repeated twice, and there’s really nothing very positive about those entries.

Some of them seem quite contradictory. For example, we have “fundamental.” Now I am far from a fundamentalist, and I won’t speak for fundamentalism, but most fundamentalists I’ve encountered are interested in getting back to the basics of Christianity. In fact, I’ve rarely had a conversation with a fundamentalist that didn’t center around something about Jesus. I might well have disagreed with what they thought about Jesus and what he was really about, but they were definitely interested in trying.

But how does “fundamental” fit with “KJV 1611?” The “1611” part should tell us pretty quickly that these people are not interested in any Christian fundamentals. They’re not particularly interested in finding out what Jesus said and did if they rely on a fairly ordinary translation of the Bible made nearly 1600 years after Jesus lived. What is fundamental about a translation anyhow?

On the other side we have “Pre-millenial.” If I remember rightly, before the hurricane it included pre-tribulationist as well. If that is the case, I congratulate them on moving that little gem of doctrine down their priority list. But pre-millenial isn’t exactly all that fundamental or traditional either. It’s just one of many ways of interpreting Revelation, something people with very fundamentalist views can easily disagree on, and fundamentalists in my experience often agree to do just that.

Then we have “missionary” and “evangelistic.” But again, this goes with KJV 1611. What’s missionary about forcing people to use a Bible that is in a language they barely understand if they do at all. Evangelism is the spreading of the good news. But what good news is contained in the eight items emphasized on this church’s front wall?

In fact, these two words, “missionary” and “evangelistic” strike me as the least appropriate entries in the list. This list is inward looking. It’s self-congratulatory. It’s designed to bring in people who agree with the congregation on complex doctrinal details. There is nothing particularly missionary about it. There is no good news here. There is only an invitation for the “in” crowd to come join the club.

There is indeed very little independent about this. There may be no external denominational control, but that may well be for the worse, because there is no way to correct a self-destructive tendency of doctrine.

Now I do spend some time attacking the teachings of the KJV Only crowd. I think the KJVO movement is pretty silly. I’ve talked about it a good bit before. (See my Bible Translations FAQ for more information or my book What’s in a Version?.)

What I want to point out here is that it is very easy for us, as Christians, to put our doctrines on our sleeves, and let our doctrines determine who we will fellowship with. We let our doctrines replace our discernment. We let the “stuff” we believe replace the need to serve other people. We need to not only proclaim good news, but we need to be good news. One can get doctrines get in the way whether one is liberal, moderate, conservative, charismatic, pentecostal, evangelical, or fundamentalist.

The real question is not what your doctrines acutally are. It is whether your doctrines allow you to put people first.

I believe it is quite possible for people to be “saved” or “in right with God” or “in good spiritual health” with a wide variety of doctrinal positions.

Doctrines can be good. They can keep us pointed in the right direction. But as soon as you find your doctrines getting between you and other people, perhaps you need to check them out. After all, Jesus said of people, “You will know them by their fruit” (Matthew 7:16). He said it of people. I would suggest it’s one test you must apply to doctrines as well.

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  1. It seems to me that throughout history, some doctrines were created hand in hand with seperation or segmentation from an already established religious institution. Not that doctrines are the catalyst of such seperations, but they certainly are statements of what differentiates your beliefs from others, which always creates dissension in relation to convictions.

    Not saying that doctrines are what get in the way… but historically they have always followed closely behind situations. Just my thoughts.

  2. I tend to agree that doctrines are often formed when communities separate. Some doctrines and some rules are required to provide cohesion for a group as well. When doctrines are a problem is when they step on their own toes. For example, if one’s precise definition of one doctrine makes one behave in a manner that is unloving toward someone who disagrees, then your doctrines are causing trouble.

    In addition, I don’t believe that as Christians we are here for our doctrines. We are here to serve God and our fellow human beings. Those should be the things that are out front, not the distinctive details.

    Of course if someone disagrees with me on the purpose of Christianity, then they might well disagree on the rest. 🙂

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