When I was appointed to my first church after seminary (back in June 1992), I remember how popular the church growth movement was becoming. There was this whole thing called “seeker-sensitive” that was really taking off. I remember many of my United Methodist colleagues going to the latest and greatest conferences and seminars and buying the most current and “relevant” books that would solve all of our membership woes. And yet, what seemed so glaring to me, even then, was that everything seemed to revolve around new and improved programs and strategies. What I kept asking myself was, “Does doctrine matter anymore?”
It seems that not very much has changed in the 23 years that I’ve been serving in the local church. Even my own beloved UMC finds itself working through a “new and improved paradigm and program” about every two years or so.
What’s so frustrating is that we have such wonderful, life-transforming core doctrines as part of our denominational tradition. However, it appears that our denomination still seems more enamored with fruit…but not so much the root. We want inclusion, mercy to the last, least and the lost, everyone in service, etc., and yet it seems that we often undermine the very means by which all of those issues (and far more) will ever come to pass.
When I read about Scriptural Holiness, I read about inward transformation happening first before societal transformation can occur. Being must precede doing. Beliefs impact behavior. Confession, creed, and character shape our conduct. We ignore doctrine to our peril. Mack Stokes wrote,
“…for Wesley, scriptural holiness was seen as “inward holiness” produced by the supernatural pardoning and re-creating power of God through Christ, which impels us into “outward holiness.” The tree, being made good, bears good fruit.”
I know, for many, everything I’ve just written can be filed under the category of “duh.” But doctrine really does matter. It shapes and forms who we are and helps us to understand whose we are. It’s with that foundation that we’re able to go out into all the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ and extend his Kingdom into every sphere of life. But we must first be genuine disciples of Jesus Christ (new creatures in Christ) who have had our hearts changed and who submit to his Lordship. If we aren’t, then all we will be are Pharisaical workers who will be destined to burnout and crash because, like a branch cut from the vine, there will be no life-giving nutrients and power running in and through us. If we would bear much, good, and lasting fruit, then we must abide in Christ and he must abide in us.
Grace and Truth,