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Organic Church Life: Doctrinal Issues

How do you treat doctrinal concerns in an organic house church? The following was initially written in response to someone inquiring about the doctrine of the Trinity.

Q: A person in your group denies the Trinity. How do you respond?

That’s a great question and one to work through slowly in prayer.

There have been situations that we have known in experience and through the stories of others who are further along in the journey. It is so very important to wait upon the Lord and seek his patient heart.

Every situation is different and I don’t believe there are uniform answers for the problems that may arise in a local ekklesia.

First, let me give a preliminary note about dealing with doctrinal differences. This question about the Trinity really calls for a careful response over handling doctrine in general.

If any person comes into the fellowship and begins sharing or teaching something that the group feels is biblically unfounded or a bit speculative, everyone should feel free to express their concern to this person in an appropriate time and manner.

In a gentle and respectful way, with the Lord’s heart, there should be an open discussion in an atmosphere of freedom.

This might be something that the entire fellowship discusses together. Depending on the person and the situation it might be something best left in discussion with the brothers only, or even the eldest among you.

However the fellowship decides to handle their own unique situation, the church should always move forward in love toward one another.

I do want to be clear about this. Everyone in your group comes from a different place. There will be theological differences.

If the nature of your association is built upon every piece of doctrine you think is important, you will see these differences as a threat.

If you’re not getting all your life from Jesus, you can count on there being division among you because of these differences.

Differences in theological opinions and biblical interpretation can be a very healthy and edifying thing. I don’t think these differences are serious concerns, unless a person is doing any of the following:

  1. challenging the biblical presentation of the person and work of Christ;
  2. relentlessly pressing their doctrinal position on others; or
  3. purposely being divisive with their theological opinions.

If you are meeting in an organic church, which means your smaller meetings are probably open, you do not have to worry about someone pulpiteering and leading everyone to the gates of hell. Everyone is encouraged to think on his or her own and intentionally enter into discussion.

We must lose the attitude of fear and distrust—where we are always suspicious of one another.

There is an elder brother I know who told me of a situation in their fellowship a few years ago. Another brother came in with a doctrinal / missional agenda and he was very adamant about it.

Eventually the brothers agreed that they would set a time aside for him to share his views that he felt so passionate about. It would then be left to the whole church to decide if they agreed with him and wanted to move in the direction he was proposing.

No matter what their decision, they agreed to hear him out and drop it after he shared. So he shared and they listened. The church expressed that they did not desire to accept his views. They lovingly rejected his beliefs which they felt moved them away from Christ and the man never came back.

At no time was frustration or anger expressed to this person. They reached a consensus and agreed with one another in the Lord.

The Lord has his own way of pruning his church that doesn’t involve a trial or hearing.

It’s unfortunate that we often don’t trust the Lord to express himself in the Body this way. In organized Christianity it is usually left to a few men to guide and “protect” the flock by meeting in secret with those who are perceived to be a threat to the spiritual life of the church.

I certainly agree that there are shepherds/elders and teachers that need to pastor. The actions of these members will be a tremendous help to the Body during this time, but we must believe that the Lord’s people are able to discern the Lord’s heart in community with each other.

I believe it is the example of those shepherds that help the flock to discern the Lord’s heart if there be any confusion. You do this by meeting around Christ and the Scriptures together—prayerfully seeking the Lord’s heart on the matter and not being ruled by your emotions.

We should not be alarmed by theological differences.

Like the example I have shared above. I believe some of the members knew the Lord well enough to discern truth, and those who were unsure leaned upon the discernment of the elders who have proven themselves over time to be people of sound heart and mind.

I do think there are some beliefs that are clearly peripheral and the church should spend little to no time discussing them. However, I don’t think it’s all so cut and dry. There are plenty of spiritual and biblical insights that are truly edifying. It is not wrong to set aside time for Bible study.

The church should not run from theological inquiry and biblical discussions, but welcome them when the need arises.

The church should not mistakenly think that there is no room for deep biblical discussion. The Beareans understood the benefits of finding Christ in biblical exploration (Acts 17:11). This sort of thing can be a wonderful building project! It all depends on your center.

Jesus did not condemn the Scriptures, he rebuked those who abused it through careless interpretation and poor handling of the biblical text (John 5:39-40). Our biblical exploration should lead us to Christ. It ought to benefit us in our knowing of him and our learning to do his kingdom work.

It’s unfortunate that many folks who have received a fresh revelation of Jesus have concluded that we are no longer in need of discussions about the Scriptures. They have set Christ up against the biblical text. I’m sure that we have all seen both extremes.

We may make some mistakes in dealing with these issues, but I do believe that as long as you move forward in the love of Christ, the Lord will honor the efforts of the church.

Then there are other beliefs that we would consider essential to our faith in Christ. It is upon the essentials that we must all agree.

Q: Is the doctrine of the Trinity essential?

This may seem a bit fuzzy at times, but I do believe that there is a standard by which we judge what is essential. What we say about who Jesus is matters most. We can disagree about many things, but this one thing we must land firmly on both feet together as a church (1 John 2:22; 4:1-6).

It’s only matters of faith which are directly connected to the person and work of Christ that are essential.

Every confession in the New Testament and in the early church reflects a basic recognition of Jesus of Nazareth as the unique Son of God who was born of a virgin, crucified, buried, and raised (1 Cor. 15:3-5).

What is necessary for belief in Jesus (salvation)? I remember a professor asking this once. I remember him asking something like, “Is it necessary to believe in the virgin birth?” Likewise, we could ask if it is necessary to believe that God is Triune in nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

I understand that a person may genuinely come to Christ without a full theological and biblical knowledge of God in Christ. However, regardless of what they may or may not be aware of at their receiving of Jesus, they are indeed receiving the God that became a human being and was born of a virgin Mary. They are embracing Jesus (the Son) that is the second person in what was dubbed the “Trinity” by Tertullian in the third century.

What’s really crazy is the little knowledge we do have at our first confession, but the Lord saves us still. That’s the key: It’s the Lord that saves! He sees into a man’s heart. He sees what a man is truly doing with Jesus. We should not be quick to judge.

I don’t think a denial of the Trinity is necessarily a denial of Christ. It could be the case, but only the Lord knows the reasons.

I do agree that many things unravel at the decimation of the doctrine on the Trinity. It presents a lot of problems on many levels, but this still doesn’t require a frantic move to straighten that person out or form a lynch mob.

My inclination would be to go to the root and see if this person is confessing the same Spirit. What do they believe about Christ? It may just be that their ideas about the Triune God are only muddled in their understanding of the God who is three in one.

Remember, the doctrine of the Trinity may just be the most mysterious of all Christian doctrines. It’s not irrational, it’s just mysterious. It doesn’t go against reason, it simply goes beyond it. So, tread softly.

In closing, relax a little. Get to know the people in your church and learn to listen better—be teachable. Humble yourself as you recognize that nobody has arrived. Above all, love each other.

I’m willing to bet that through learning to accept one another you will discover that having theological differences will keep you on your toes. In this way you will be always growing in your faith, learning to love like Christ, and being enriched by the spiritual journey of others.

In the essentials let there be unity–in the peripherals let there be freedom–and in all things, love.

Revised and expanded from a facebook note dated April 2010.

You may also be interested in reading other posts in the Organic Church Life series: The Beginning; The Sunday Gathering; The Lord’s Supper; and Visiting an Organic Church.


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