Writings about “What We Believe” (i.e.–Doctrine Statements) generally fall into one of two categories. Either they are so long and broad that no one really reads them – or they are designed to highlight the differences of this church (who follows Jesus) from other churches (who also follow Jesus). The first approach is worthless – the second completely foreign to Jesus’ prayer in John 17 (“My prayer is … that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” – John 17:20a, 21). Only in a free, first-world country would we have the luxury of fighting with each other as if we’re not serving the same Lord! If we were struggling for survival – or under threat of martyrdom – we would embrace each other much more enthusiastically!
We’ve chosen a different approach for WellSpring. We have chosen to outline four foundational Truths that must be starting points for our life. We’ve followed those with four attitudes that will guide us in our disagreements on the finer details.
We can all agree that:
1) Jesus is Lord.
If Jesus is my King and Jesus is your King, we’re family! All the other points of doctrine really do matter – but they are all subject to this one. As one Christian leader said to another, “We disagree on everything but Jesus”…
“No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” – 1 Corinthians 12:3b
“My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world. Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God. Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God. And everyone who refuses to confess faith in Jesus has nothing in common with God. This is the spirit of antichrist that you heard was coming. Well, here it is, sooner than we thought!” – 1 John 4:1-3 (MSG)
2) God is Love.
The ultimate goal of doctrine is to know God. Our study, then, should lead us to become more and more like God. Because God is love, we must also become more and more loving! Ironically, churches who are rightly concerned about doctrine are often among the most un-loving!
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him… we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” – 1 John 4:7-9, 16
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:16-17
3) Jesus came “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14,17)
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth… For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” – John 1:14, 17
Jesus was “full” of grace and “full” of Truth. Churches generally gravitate to one or the other. We seek to display outrageous amounts of grace to our broken world and irrational levels of devotion to the Truth of the Bible. Jesus wasn’t half-way graceful and half-way truthful – He was 100% of each!
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9
“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6
4) The Bible is right.
Although we can disagree about our interpretation of Scripture, it is essential that we start with a foundation of Scripture’s authority.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
“Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching… Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” – 1 Timothy 4:13, 15-16
We all should approach doctrinal discussions with:
Again and again, Scripture tells us that God longs for a unified church… the watching world will be won by a unified church… community thrives within a unified church. Most of the doctrinal divides in the American church are over issues that are spelled out less clearly than Jesus’ plea for unity. May it be true of us that we can disagree in an agreeable, unified way.
“I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” – John 17:23
Any doctrinally correct reading of Scripture points extensively to mankind’s need for more humility. Ephesians 4, which begs the Church to be unified, starts off like this…
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called.” – Ephesians 4:2-4
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” – 1 Corinthians 8:1
Much of the doctrinal disagreements within churches lie in areas where Scripture is silent. Well intentioned believers, over the years, have “filled in the gaps” with phrases and stances that clarify and summarize God’s intent from multiple Scriptures. Churches then disagree, split, and even fight about phrases not found in Scripture. We will choose to speak clearly where the Bible speaks clearly and remain silent where Scripture is silent. In essentials, we will strive for unity; in non-essentials, we will allow for liberty.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1
4) Finite Understanding
It’s also important to remember that while God, in Scripture, is always right – my understanding of God may not be 100% accurate. We are to be forever learning and growing – becoming more and more like Jesus. Inherently then, our understanding of Scriptures will deepen and grow and change over time as well. Truth is not “wishy-washy” nor is it left entirely up to “what’s right for me.” But it’s essential to approach Scripture from the perspective of finite, fallen humans trying to comprehend an infinite, eternal God.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9