By Loren Gjesdal
How has doctrine ever helped anyone? Haven’t theological disputes been at the heart of many church splits and even bloodshed over the centuries? Can’t we just agree to disagree, and all get along? Isn’t Jesus all that really matters?
Maybe you have heard someone ask questions like this, or maybe you wonder yourself just what benefit there is to doctrinal statements of faith, creeds, and systematic theologies. Personally, I enjoy delving into esoteric discussions of Bible prophecy, end time events and doctrinal distinctives. But I have also thought of them as matters of personal curiosity without much relevance to daily Christian living.
Then I went to an apologetics conference at which I heard one of the speakers explain how the doctrine of eternal torment had prevented him from thinking of God as good and from surrendering his heart to God.
THEOLOGY DOES MATTER
I have also run across Christians who refused to use computers, or even to obtain drivers licenses, out of fear that they would inadvertently become marked with the number of the beast. It turns out that theology does matter, even the esoteric details, and can influence every-day Christian life.
Part of what has led the Church of God (Seventh Day) to be distinctive (and to avoid some of the errors described above), is its emphasis on the inerrancy of scripture as our highest authority. Many of the ideas that give Christianity a bad name result from placing some other source above the Bible—whether it is Greek philosophy, a self-proclaimed prophet, a church founder, or even a popular author who simply does a shoddy job of Bible interpretation.
The authority of Scripture is so ingrained in us that we probably don’t even think of it as a theological position, but it is. God has revealed Himself through His written word. Theology literally means god words or god reason (from Greek theos, god, and logia, word or reason). When we pursue good theology, we are seeking to know God as He really is.
GOD HAS REVEALED HIMSELF THROUGH THE LIVING WORD
In His written word we also find that God has revealed Himself through the Living Word—through His Son, Jesus. Again, this may seem so fundamental that we might readily agree that, “Of course, Jesus matters!” We see in the description of Jesus’ life and teaching what God is really like, but also what it means to be really human. We see someone who perfectly imaged God, who also clarified errors in doctrine as the embodiment of Truth, as a living theology.
We understandably delve into the study of Jesus with some passion, which has also resulted in some division over the years. The questions, “Who is Jesus?”, “What did He accomplish on the cross, why, and how?” are the questions that lead us to understand salvation and what it means to be a Christian. Yet we also find our intellect and our language stretched beyond their limits when we try and describe the relationship between the Father and the Son and the Spirit.
Our patience for wrestling through our differences is limited. Too often at the point of disagreement, the word heretic gets brought out and an “us” vs. “them” division is established. Or we discontinue the discussion to preserve the relationship. To civilly persevere in the discussion with an open mind (and ear) is to value the relationship as well as the Truth.
Truth matters. Not all truth may matter equally, but all truth matters as each truth in some way illuminates God’s character, our nature, and His will. Even the finer points, such as the nature of hell and prophetic interpretation, can impact significant life choices, the stability of our faith, and the unity of our fellowship. It is loving as well as God-honoring to pursue the best understanding possible, together.
Truth matters because in a study of theology, through the written word as well as the Living Word, we are pursuing the answers to our most fundamental questions as human beings—who am I, what gives life meaning, and where am I going? 1 We are also pursuing our life’s purpose and obtaining a foretaste of our eternal reward.
TO KNOW HIM IS TO LOVE HIM
To wrestle with theology and doctrine is to wrestle to understand an infinite, eternal, perfect God through a finite, temporal and sin-clouded mind. Yet to know Him is THE passion that should occupy first place in our hearts and minds. To know Him is to love Him, and the better we know Him, the more we will love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
To know Him face to face without any veil, and to be known by Him without any fear, is the great reward of the Kingdom of God. It is the gift which Jesus died to grant those who would want it more than anything this world has to offer.
THE PURSUIT OF KNOWING GOD
While I appreciate the written record of Jesus’ life and teaching, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Jesus’ continuing presence guiding us today), I nevertheless long for Jesus’ bodily return. I have a keen sense that right now I only see through a glass darkly, yet I long to see with the perfect clarity that only seeing Him face to face will bring.
I suspect this shared frustration is at the root of many contentions. Yet we must not grow weary of the pursuit of truth. Theology is nothing less than the pursuit of knowing God Himself. A truer, fuller understanding of Him will lead us to make wiser choices, have accurate expectations, and to live with fruitful purpose. Theology is the grace of God to give us a taste of heaven today.