What Good Is Discussing Doctrine?

German police produce likeness of Apostle Paul based upon historical descriptions

For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;

But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate;

Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

10 For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision:

11 Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.

Tit 1:7-11

Some people wonder why anyone would even want a blog about Church of God (COG) matters, and most particularly one in which doctrine is discussed.  The premise is actually a simple one: If you cannot articulate what you believe (either by speaking or writing), then you really do not know what you believe.  If you see something here that challenges you, then so much the better — as long as you can articulate why you agree or disagree according to the Bible.

That is why Bible study is so important.  If someone asks you a question, then are you going to hand them a booklet and tell them to read it?  How likely is it that they will do so?  However, if you can lead someone through their own Bible and prove some point of doctrine, just as someone once did to Loma Armstrong on the issue of the Sabbath, then how much more effective will it be?

On a side note, I do want to stress that booklets, telecasts, websites and such all are worthwhile ventures, but when someone is face to face with you and is asking you what you believe, then they want to hear it from you what you believe, not what someone on TV says.  Rather, it is much more likely to make a positive impression to first show them what their own Bible says and then follow it up with a booklet, magazine or web link.

Hopefully, this blog encourages people to think.  Hopefully, it encourages people to articulate what they believe and why they believe it.  Not a single one of use will have perfect understanding of things on this side of eternity, so I hope that it is evident that God will not just be interested in what we say, do and believe, but that He will be even more interested in the why of such things.

So, I am perhaps now going to suprise a few people.

I got an email this morning that asks a question that is probably best answered in public.

You write:

“God and God’s Church isn’t so weak that it cannot withstand discussions from different points of view about satellite (non-core) doctrines.”

Surely God and God’s Church can withstand discussions about every doctrine! Would you agree that the COG would be more robust today if every doctrine had been fully discussed and documented?

The short answer is, “No,” believe it or not.  However, after showing why it will not make the COG more robust, I intend to show why it isn’t even the right question!

Why Discussion of Every Doctrine Won’t Stop Controversy

When I was younger and more naive, I would have readily answered enthusiastically, “Yes!  Discussion is a good thing!  Discussion always leads to greater understanding!”  However, experience has shown me that this is not always the case.  First and foremost, however, the Bible itself shows this to not be the case.

Circumcision Controversy

As is hopefully evident from the opening Bible passage, Paul had to fight various controversies during his entire ministry.  Some of them just would not die.  Ironically, the one that seems to get the most press is the very first major controversy encountered in the Church!

According to Wikipedia, the “Council of Jerusalem” took place around 50 AD, which was roughly 2 decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  According to the same source, the death of “Paul the Apostle” was in 67 AD.  According to a chronology put together on a web page titled “Chronology of Paul’s Letters“, the last epistle was 2 Timothy, which was written circa late 64 AD.

Therefore, a conservative estimate is that the circumcision controversy still existed 14 years after the Jerusalem conference.

And, need I point out that the account of this conference in Acts 15 shows ample discussion beforehand?

Faith Once Delivered

Perhaps more to the point, some things just plain should have already been proven by an individual before becoming baptized.

1 Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called:

2 Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied.

3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

~ Jude 1:1-3

Yet, most whenever I read people who have left the Church (yes, not a human organization but threw it all away), they will often complain about this, that or the other, but in the end they are dealing with emotions and not being reasonable — at all.  I mean it.  It is unreasonable to throw away what you have already proven to be right and correct because other people are hypocrites.

It is even more unreasonable to become a minister and then suddenly strip all gears and throw away everything you’ve learned for similar reasons.  Either it was wrong to begin with, and therefore you didn’t do your due diligence and were likewise wrong, or it was right to begin with and now you are very wrong.  If the former, then what was wrong with your reasoning process that got your there?  If the latter, then how do you know you are correct now?

More importantly, once something is proven, do you have to constantly reinvent the world and keep reproving it over and over?

I remember a discussion once I had with someone I won’t name who wanted to tell me that the days of the Genesis Creation account could have been 1,000 years in length.  I said the account doesn’t mean that, and the description was as clear as the sky is blue.  So, they then wanted to argue that the sky wasn’t really blue but rather that it appeared to be blue, that was when I said the argument was “stupid” and that they needed to learn what colors are and how they work, seeing as by their definition there was no such thing as color at all.

Do I really have to re-prove that the sky is blue?  Do I really have to re-prove that Jesus is the Son of God?  That He rose from the dead?  At what point do you review the arguments for and against something in order to more deeply understand it or to re-prove it over and over?  I submit that the latter isn’t necessarily the best use of one’s time.

The Biggest Proof It Won’t Work

An even bigger reason that discussed and documented doctrines won’t squelch disagreements and disputes and make for more unity within the Church is because it has already been done!

Here are some items to consider:

1. Herbert W Armstrong was a prolific writer, and there is hardly a doctrine of his that wasn’t in a booklet somewhere.  His crowning literary achievement, Mystery of the Ages, was a pretty comprehensive, systematic theology textbook of what he taught (with a couple of unfortunate late-in-life additions, it would seem).  You can agree, you can disagree, or you can just plain not care, but to say it wasn’t documented is just not true.

2. In 1995, United Church of God, an International Association (commonly abbreviated UCGia or simply UCG) came out of Worldwide Church of God.  One of the biggest criticisms leveled at it by various pundits (espectially Dr Bob Thiel) was that they went over every doctrine they could think of in order to come up with a statement or even a study paper on it.  They were unafraid to examine, discuss and publish beliefs based upon this process.  Lay members were encouraged to submit their own papers and arguments in addition to elders.

3. Church of God, a Worldwide Association has published quite a bit of material because of member participation in its 2 years of existence.  However, since it came out of UCG, it is a pretty safe bet that should anything not be covered elsewhere then it probably agrees with the UCG doctrine at the time of separation, since a lot of the disagreements were not so much over what the official beliefs were but in the practical aspects of them.

4. The Journal News of the Churches of God has been around since the fold of In Transition during the days of chaos in WCG.  It features all sorts of points of view.  In fact, it seems to cater to some of the more variant splinters coming out of the WCG community.  Regardless, discussion via guest columns, coverage of seminars and of course the paid ads that some pay for show there is a lot of discussion.

To sum up: discussion is not lacking and documentation is not lacking.  The question is erroneous to begin with.

14 Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.

15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

~ 2Ti 2:14-15

I imagine there was a lot of “discussion” about circumcision in the first century and that we only see a small piece of that discussion.  However, as Paul’s letters show us, that discussion continued without resolution.  John’s epistles show that there were many more controversies than what even Paul dealt with.  It seems that the lesson hasn’t sunk in yet.

And, why should it be resolved?  Why are we so dismayed at disunity?  I realize we all desire unity, and I realize that Jesus desires us to be in unity, but Satan will always do what he can to disrupt that unity.  We must not overlook that, and we need to realize that there is no silver bullet to unity!

Why would God allow such a disruption?  As I tried to get across yesterday in “How Do You Deal with Disappointment? Are You Growing a Root of Bitterness?“, God wants to know how we will react, what we will do and, beyond what I wrote yesterday, how we will treat one another.

However, discussion does aid in strengthening the beliefs because you know why you believe them.  It strengthens your faith.  Hopefully, however, you have already done that with the core doctrines.  If not, it is time to blow the dust off your Bibles!

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