Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Keep It Simple ...

I Timothy 1:3-4

“… command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies …”

Any brand-new community of faith struggles with the question of doctrine. It must. It has to. From the beginning, clear boundaries must be drawn between what will be believed and tolerated, and what will not. Paul is not merely being pig-headed here (well, he is often pig-headed elsewhere!); he is simply reminding Timothy that there are boundaries to the community of faith.

Some people were teaching false doctrine. Perhaps only from ignorance, or from misunderstanding. Paul doesn’t want them kicked out of the church; he simply wants them to stop teaching wrong things. Because he uses the word “doctrine,” we can assume these are theological matters, probably core beliefs.

Scanning the church landscape in America these days, I can see numerous doctrines which I believe Paul would call “wrong,” too. Like the “prosperity gospel,” or “fundamentalism,” or “theology of American empire.” Hey, that’s why I am a United Methodist – I believe it to be the most correct, or at least mostly adequate, on doctrinal matters … though I wouldn’t want this point pressed too hard!

So Paul himself draws the line at core issues like doctrine and the foundations of faith. He appears not to be so interested in the more speculative matters, or “controversies” as he puts it. Talk of “myths” and “genealogies” are a gigantic waste of time. Note that Paul isn’t going to tell us who is right or wrong; he doesn’t honestly give a rip! Anything that doesn’t tend toward the work of God is irrelevant.

Again, I can think of a long list of controversies in our churches which belong in this category, including, but not limited to: the “authority” of the Bible, excessive wrangling over church polity, the style of music in worship, the eternal destination of Muslims, and church architecture.

Here in Cameroon, we have the same challenges. We will need to draw clear boundaries about what we believe, as well as protect those tenets. We must communicate them to the people in our congregations. We must live them out.

But perhaps most importantly, we must refuse to be drawn into unfruitful, contentious arguments.

In another day and time, Paul’s advice to Timothy -- and to us -- might have read: “Keep it simple, stupid!”