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~ Experiencing our Doctrines ~

I echo the observations of many when I state there is a penchant for doctrinal hair-splitting in the evangelical camp. Evangelicals are consumed with being right at the expense of personal and corporate sanctification.

George W. Bush declares he is a born-again Christian but since he is so dependent on the evangelicals for re-election, even he knows enough not to say much more about his spiritual experience.

For instance, Bush will keep the method of his baptism a secret. Whether he disclosed he was baptized by full immersion in public water, or in a private church, or was “sprinkled” over his head, or wasn’t baptized at all, the evangelicals will be split over their opinion of his conversion. He would receive tons of email from fundamentalists telling him the way he got baptized (or didn’t) isn’t in obedience to God or won’t constitute saving grace.

Evangelicals are split over the prophecy issues of the “end times.” Does Bush believe in a pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation or post-tribulation “rapture”? He dare not say. Since global prophecy centers around Israel and the middle-eastern nations, does Bush see himself playing a prophetic role in bringing it to fulfillment? He’ll never tell. Or not until his post-presidency memoirs.

The President does not have the freedom of religious speech that we enjoy in the US, unless he has the guts to risk votes. (For most politicians, votes transcend the substance of one’s core beliefs and spiritual experiences.) No matter what he says about his spirituality, evangelicals will be divided and some may abandon him deciding his Christianity isn’t authentic. He will not risk that until after his re-election.

Evangelicals have a great penchant toward division. If individuals don’t agree with the way things are done or believed, it is easy to start one’s own denomination, “an independent church.” “Independent” generally means “we are not tainted by the apostasy of the others.” That’s been done close to 3,000 times in the last 500 years. That’s an average of six new denominations per year. Martin Luther would probably turn over in his grave over this, if it were possible. As a Roman Catholic priest, he sought reform in the Body of Christ, the Church. He did not seek to start a new denomination or father 3000 of them. The Catholic Church did reform, while the Reformation movement went thousands of different ways.

The Weekly Reflections have avoided doctrinal debates. Notice that did Jesus too. The famous “Sermon on Mount” do not teach people what to believe but how to be. Transcending doctrine, Jesus taught that hate is murder and lust is adultery. I don’t think you’ll find such things declared as doctrine in any denomination’s catechism or statements of the faith. If you know of any, please tell me for I am genuinely interested.

I have enough trouble with “don’t worry about tomorrow…” However I did have delightful experiences with it. In my teen years I hitchhiked across the US. For all practical purposes, so to speak, all I owned was in my backpack. A simple living. I had some notion of where I wanted to go, but each day could not be planned into it. Every morning I arose literally not knowing where I would be that afternoon or evening, whether I would be robbed of my simple possessions, or even alive at the end of the day. (And there were indeed some challenging moments with, let’s say, unfriendly people.) After a while I was quite at peace (interrupted with some emotional speed bumps). That’s because whether I was sleeping in the back of a trucker’s cab, or waiting along a highway for the next ride, I asked myself, “Are you at the moment safe, healthy, and on your way?” As long as my answer was “yes” I was content and grateful. I rested in that moment. I lived in that continuous moment and was quite at home in the world, relishing each day.

During my collegiate undergraduate years I developed a serious case of “divided mindfulness.” Scholastic work was never done. There was always an assignment or paper due, incessant exams for which to prepare. I accomplished them faithfully and well but while doing them I would be distracted by “the call of the wild.” Knowing I also needed to explore God’s creations and exercise my body and spirit, I would do that. There was more to life than college studies. But when I did I was distracted by thoughts like, “I’ve got to get back to my work and studies. I must not fall behind.”

The conclusion of the first semester with the last final exam meant the Christmas (or Winter) break. What a freedom of mind and spirit! There was nothing to do except celebrate the Christmas season and be immersed fully into each moment of each day, whatever it brought…until the next semester…followed by years of undergraduate and graduate studies, practicums, internships, work, commitments and obligations.

I’m writing this in a forest area next to a fast running creek splashing its song over the rocks. Yet, even here, I am not fully immersed in the moment. I’m thinking how I need to pack up and leave, about what has to get done tomorrow and what a meeting on Friday will produce, although for the most part of the day, my mind was undivided and my spirit drinking each moment that was spent in suspended time.

“Time to get back to the real world” some would say. No, this is the real world. To which I return is the constructed world of humans, who, in their arrogance, claim that to be reality and our short jaunts into the simple yet mysteriously complex surroundings of creation to be just “a break.” A break it is, and we need to break away from the humanly constructed reality in heart, mind and soul. Without such breaking away, we cannot immerse ourselves fully in prayer and worship.

Life-promoting doctrine, as succinctly declared in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, is the portal to spiritual rebirth. While it is, of course, worthy of further study, it remains a call to living a process of sanctification, of growing deeper and maturely into our love relationship with the Christ who is the Face and Spirit of the Father.

Like doctoral dissertations, doctrinal dissertations are an exercise of the intellect. The challenge of sanctification and holiness is of the body, soul and spirit.

Richard Wurmbrand eloquently wrote of his mental stupor and deterioration (and that of others) after years in the communist gulags. Interestingly, he and his brothers and sisters could not remember doctrine or their recited prayers. What he and the others were conscious of and what sustained them was their experience of the presence and love of Christ, His for them, them for His, “I in you, You in me.”

The many who emerged from the gulags into freedom did not quibble about things like how to get baptized to “get saved” or if a cross should have an image of the crucified Christ or remain bare. They don’t get bogged down with debates over whether the film, The Passion of the Christ, is idolatrous as some fundamentalist Christians maintained, because it produced a “graven image” of Christ as condemnable as the many exquisite depictions in the stained glass art of ancient churches that the Calvinist (and others) iconoclasts destroyed in their righteous rampage.

One thing that will be heavenly in heaven is the absence of quibbling over doctrine and the absence of denominations and their politics. Sadly to say, there are some that just might miss having that. But I am sure our direct experience of the face of God will make many of us wish we pursued it more relentlessly here on earth.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
~ Education, Research and Advocacy
   in the Christian Faith ~

Spiritual Resource Services  © October 15, 2004

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