Apr 30 2012

John Meunier: Doctrine divides

Original post at http://johnmeunier.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/doctrine-divides/

One of the problems with doctrine is that is divides.

If you say Jesus Christ is the Son of God, people have to choose whether they will accept that claim. If you say grace is free for all, you are asking for argument. If you say “once saved always saved” is not necessarily the case, you might bruise some feelings, no matter how gently you say it.

But I don’t know how to avoid it.

John Wesley did not like the Calvinist doctrine that taught that a justified sinner could never lose his salvation. He did not like it in part because it did not work for him theologically. But he did not like it most of all because it led people into bad practice. People who thought all of faith came down to a in the past were prone to fall into a life that bore little spiritual fruit. They did not go on to perfection. The fancy word for this is antinomianism.

It is a weed that has taken root quite firmly in our United Methodist field. Especially among our established congregations that have sometimes gone decades without any actual Methodist doctrine being taught, the teachings of our tradition are heard as wild and new and at odds with what people have come to understand as both comforting and true.

I confess to being at something of a loss about what to do about that.

I don’t believe that doctrine for doctrine’s sake is important. But I do believe that some doctrines are more conducive to a life of progressive holiness, which I understand to be the summons of Christ. And that is the biggest doctrinal challenge of all. Many of the people who go by the name of United Methodist simply do not believe that growing in holiness is important.

The experts tell me that no more than a handful of them ever will desire or seek holiness of heart and life. Most are simply trying to get on with their lives with some assurance that God is in his heaven. They are not, to quote Eugene Peterson, Green Berets for Jesus. This is all fine and good if your do not come from a tradition that teaches that Jesus really meant what he said in the Sermon on the Mount and Hebrews 12:14 was not kidding when it said that without holiness no one will see the Lord.

There is that pesky doctrine stuff sticking its nose into things again.

What is the best way to speak to that? I certainly do not know, yet. But I grow more and more convinced that figuring that out is essential to God’s mission for the UMC.

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John Meunier

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