“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
Large elements of our society have decided that generalizations and categorizing are heresies of the first order. God forbid that anyone or anything be lumped together in some broad, sweeping statement. Everyone and every thing is unique, beyond categorization. Really?
There is a book in my library which deals with Classical art. But the period of Classical art does not exist except in someone’s mind. Classical art is a category that is imposed on historical persons, sculptures, paintings, architecture and so forth. Classical art is a category because enough people have studied certain similarities and groupings have agreed upon the term. So, art and architectural historians generalize using the term ‘Classical’.
It is absurd to say we cannot generalize. We have to generalize and categorize. It is absolutely essential to human life.
I was standing in line at the grocery store the other day and standing in front of me was a man. There is no other person on earth who is exactly who he is but I looked at him and knew immediately he was a man and not a dog. I know he was a man because I have seen enough men and enough dogs to know the difference. I have some general categories with which to work and therefore I was able to conclude, with an extremely high degree of probability, that he was a man and not a dog.
The real issue is not that we categorize or generalize. The question is whether we do it well or badly. This brings me to the subject of today’s post; Christian doctrine.
There is a widespread impatience and weariness today (notice, I’m generalizing) with respect to doctrine. I have heard television preachers, for example, say with pride to large masses of approving listeners that they do not preach doctrine. They only preach the Bible. At which point they launch into sermons that are laced with doctrinal statements. This is dishonest, of course. It is impossible to speak of the faith without speaking doctrinally. This is simply an example of handling doctrine badly, of not “rightly handling the word of truth.”
There are three components of faith: knowledge, assent and trust. All three are important but must be handled with some care or we end up in the ditch. One ditch is to say that faith is only knowledge and assent. Certain sentences or propositions are laid out and if you agree you have faith.
Another ditch is to say that you just have faith. Down with doctrine! But faith in what? The Great Pumpkin? The Tooth Fairy? To claim faith without knowledge or assent is to begin faith within your own experience. And that can mean anything.
Christian faith or trust is based upon doctrine, that body of knowledge which the Church uses to give shape and content to trust, to faith. It is simply not enough to say that you have faith in Jesus. Which Jesus do you mean? The Jesus of David Koresh or Jim Jones or the Mormons?
The words we use to gather up the faith and hand it over are not the faith. Even our most important words, the Bible, out of which all doctrine is drawn, are not the faith. I do not have faith in the two natures of Christ. I have faith in Jesus Christ, True God and True Man. I turn to the Bible, itself a collection of inspired, doctrinal confessions, to give content to Jesus, true God and True Man..
As the Church reflects upon the God of the Bible it categorizes the Bible’s witness into generalized statements regarding God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, sin, creation, the people of God, salvation and numerous other aspects of the faith. Christians do not always agree on these generalizations but they are important, necessary and essential.
“May the peace of Christ that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”