Let's start our look at the church with a problem which Scripture warns us about repeatedly -- the importance of doctrine. Already I realize that there are people hurriedly moving their mouse, trying to close this window, disgusted and disappointed that a discussion of a practical subject like improving the church is beginning with such a theoretical and theological approach. But I ask that you bear with me, because there is little to be discussed which is not practical, and little to be done which does not deal with the issue of basic Christian doctrine. Peter and Paul each warned the early Church to guard their doctrine closely. So did John and James. Why? Because doctrine is the foundation for the way the Christian as an individual and the church as a whole do things.
I see churches going both ways. There are some who guard doctrine very closely, but the list of which doctrines should be guarded gets extremely long. Finally some of the most trivial decisions a local church can make are considered a strict matter of determining God's will. Denominations divide over secondary issues which are not expressly spoken of in Scripture. People are cast out of the fellowship for offering a different perspective on being saved without baptism or which Bible translation is allowed in the sanctuary. Doctrine gives way to legalism. Strict codes of behavior must be adhered to or else face an official or unofficial boot from the congregation, and perhaps from heaven itself. Usually these churches are giving Christ a black eye by their disparaging remarks toward "sinners", all the while acting as if their own sins are easy for God to overlook. I'll address these hypocrites later in the series, but those whose doctrine about debateable issues is inflexible make many people consider the church to be impractical and foolish.
However, lately the trend has been going the other way. Doctrine is taking a back seat in many church circles. Some have tossed it out of the back seat altogether, leaving it lying there on the side of the road. Doctrine, after all, scares people. It is a series of claims about what is true in a culture where truth's absolute nature is discounted. Where the legalists want to make most everything essential Christian doctrine, the other side wants to erase the lines altogether. The Trinity, the reliability of Scripture, man's depravity, salvation without Jesus, the physical resurrection of Christ -- the doctrines which many Christians have shed their blood to preserve are being swept away in a spirit of unity at any cost. If we stand for nothing, we fall for anything. The fact that unbiblical practices are commonplace at some churches which call themselves Christian are proof that removing a strong stand for the essentials of the faith will lead to most any practice entering the church. Discernment is unnecessary if anything is possible. An honest look at the "anything goes" stance on church doctrine will lead a person away from the church. After all, if any interpretation is acceptable, then why would a believer have any need of a group of fellow believers or a shepherd to protect and guide them through uncertain teachings and uncertain times?
We need a clear teaching as a church. Don't misunderstand. I'm not saying that everyone who walks in the doors of a church must sign some sort of creedal statement or risk being ushered back to the parking lot. But I am saying that the stated goal of a church should be to teach, promote and adhere to the core doctrines of the Christian faith. Anyone in a pastoral position should agree and teach these doctrines. Anyone who wants to take a leadership role within a local church should agree with these essentials. And anyone, regardless of belief system, should be not only allowed in the doors, but be encouraged to attend to hear the Word of God, especially as it pertains to those doctrines.
If the question you're asking is, "Is this guy a Fundamentalist?" my answer to you is to stop trying to label me and deal with the facts. There are basic tenants of the Gospel which are to be held to. Let's deal with that instead of trying to attach a label to people.
The problem of a lack of church doctrine is expressed in any number of ways within the local congregation. Discipleship is not encouraged. Spiritual disciplines are not taught, recommended or practiced. The Bible is mentioned in passing, but messages are preached from a self-help perspective. A Christian worldview is unheard of, let alone taught. Without a clear teaching of doctrine, there is no foundation to build upon.
Unless a church stands for the historic doctrines of the faith, experience becomes more important than truth. The excesses of certain Charismatic movements have illustrated a person's willingness to accept anything which "seems right" to them. And a lack of grounding in Christian doctrine prevents any kind of spiritual discernment. Any emphasis leading one to neglect or abandon the study and meditation upon God's Word is wrong. It doesn't matter if the experience feels good or if it takes place at the front of the church, if it contradicts Scripture it is wrong. And if a church belittles the Bible in favor of experience, that church is in grave error. I am not arguing against anyone's experiences. Each of those experiences are separate issues. What I am saying is that without a solid stated belief in the essential doctrines of Scripture, a church is not making disciples of Christ, but disciples of a church or of a preacher or of a self-help philosophy.
Is there still room for denominational differences? Of course. There may even be some wiggle room on exactly which doctrines are essential. But churches who are afraid to offend by standing for Christianity and churches who needlessly take extreme positions on debateable points of theology are part of what's wrong with church today.
Up next: Club Mentality.