Dogma, Doctrine, and Opinion

The following comments are adapted from “Cornerstone Foundations,” written by the founder of Cornerstone Church and Ministries, Pastor Gerald E. Martin.

Jesus as Lord is at the heart of our church. Our loyalty to Him comes before every other loyalty whether it is to government, denomination, doctrine, opinions, or anything else. It is important that we understand this. Otherwise, one may have difficulty understanding how we can have people in our church from so many different backgrounds and different doctrinal understandings and yet function in unity.

The key is recognizing that our unity is in acknowledging Jesus as Lord. If our unity was based on doctrine, then only those who interpreted the Bible the way we do could be part of the church; but since agreeing on our particular understanding is not a requirement for going to heaven, we have chosen not to make it a requirement for belonging to the church. Does this mean that doctrine is not important? On the contrary, it is very important.

We have a clearly defined doctrinal understanding that we teach and preach. There are even some things about which we are dogmatic. We refer to those things as dogma. Dogma has to do with those foundational core beliefs with which most evangelical Bible-believing Christians across denominational lines are in agreement. These beliefs are summarized in the Apostles’ Creed and include belief in one God, the creator of all things; Jesus as the only Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, crucified, raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, and coming again; the Holy Spirit; the universal church; forgiveness of sins; and life everlasting.

We make no apology for being dogmatic about the dogma. However, when it comes to doctrinal issues, we have chosen to allow room for differences. Doctrine has to do with beliefs based on Scripture on which evangelical Bible-believing Christians may or may not agree.  While different denominations may have distinctive doctrines that set them apart from each other, all of them are still considered part of the universal church of Jesus Christ. A Baptist or Presbyterian distinctive may be their understanding of eternal security. A Mennonite distinctive is their understanding of peace and non-resistance. The Pentecostals have a distinct understanding of the baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. A Nazarene distinctive is their understanding of holiness and perfection.

There are many examples that could be cited. However, the point is that doctrine differs from dogma in that there can be honest differences of interpretation while still being faithful to the truth of Scripture. Coming out at different places on doctrinal issues doesn’t exclude one from the Kingdom of God. Therefore, we have chosen not to be dogmatic about doctrine and to not allow doctrinal differences to be divisive issues in the church.

There is a third level of beliefs that I should mention yet. We refer to this level as opinions or preferences. In this area, we give even more latitude for differences. This has to do with such things as style and personal preferences in worship, order and length of services, use or non-use of instruments, dress codes, hair styles, wearing of jewelry, posture in prayer, clapping, dancing, and raising hands in worship, and so on. While Scriptures may be found that refer to these things and while there may be times when the church should set certain guidelines, in general we leave such things up to the individual. However, we do preach and teach what the Bible says about appropriate behavior and appearance. We are just not dogmatic about it.

Understanding the difference between dogma, doctrine, and opinions will help you understand how we can have people in our church from many different denominational backgrounds with differing Biblical interpretations and contrasting lifestyles and yet experience unity in the Spirit. It’s not that way in all churches. In fact, many churches are confused at this very point. Both Liberal and Fundamentalist churches can be very dogmatic but tend to end up being dogmatic about the wrong things.

Liberal churches tend to reduce the dogma to the level of opinion while Fundamentalist churches tend to raise opinions to the level of dogma. As a result, both end up in serious error, unable to effectively advance the Kingdom of God. To take what the Bible clearly spells out as truth and make it optional, or to take that on which the Bible gives latitude and make it mandatory, results in a distorted representation of the gospel, leading to spiritual bondage and death. That’s the reason you rarely see a healthy, growing, vibrant, life-giving Liberal or Fundamentalist church.

As a church that tries to function above denominational barriers, our goal is to be dogmatic in matters of Scriptural dogma, to extend grace in matters of doctrinal differences, and to give freedom in areas of personal opinion or preferences. We have adopted this as our philosophy of ministry that can be summarized in the three words, love, acceptance, and forgiveness. I believe these three words describe every church that sincerely acknowledges Jesus as Lord.

Love is often misunderstood in our society. It is more than a warm, fuzzy feeling one might have for another person. Love is an action. God loved us in such a way that He gave His only Son. True love is described in I Corinthians 13 as patient, kind, not jealous, doesn’t brag, get provoked, become arrogant, doesn’t seek it’s own way, or take into account a wrong suffered, rejoices with the truth, bears, hopes, and endures all things, and never fails. The only way we can demonstrate this kind of love is to truly make Jesus Lord in our lives. Then and only then can we see and relate to people as He did.

Acceptance is love in action toward sinners. Jesus provides a strong example for us. Of all the people to whom He related, sinners seemed most comfortable in His presence. You would think it would have been the good, religious people; but no, it was the sinners. He accepted them where they were and ministered to their need. Religious people tend to look down their noses at those who may not measure up or who have made a mess of their lives. Jesus looks at them as sheep without a shepherd, in need of a savior. If Jesus is truly Lord, we can do no less. Someone has said the church is not to be a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.

Forgiveness is simply releasing another from our own personal judgment. When we judge another, we set ourselves up as God for that person. We have no right to do that. In fact, when we do that, we place ourselves in grave danger because, according to the Bible, we will come under the same judgment ourselves. Jesus did not have a condescending attitude toward sinners. He loved them and was able to see beyond their sin.

Categories Pastors Blog | Tags: | Posted on July 7, 2012

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