bits from bob....

Balancing Doctrine and Ethics

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

I have spent almost all of my religious life as part of a fellowship focused on doctrinal purity. Those roots are a part of my spiritual psyche. What the Bible says has always been an important part of my spiritual life. I am among those who affirm, "What the Bible says has to matter!" I am grateful for this heritage and this continuing emphasis in my life. How can one go wrong when one seeks to exalt the Word of God? How can one be in error in seeking exact understandings, in desiring exact teaching, and in demanding exact obedience?

But sometimes I wonder if my heritage left me a significant "blind spot". Have I never heard Jesus' scathing words of rebuke to the Pharisees? (Or course, I/we are not like they were!) What happens if one sacrifices ethical purity in favor of doctrinal purity? What if we get doctrine right and life wrong? What if we pass the intellectual test but fail the practical test? What if our focus on knowing truth blinds us to the need to practice truth, or perhaps worse, the need to be truthful?

The doctrinal purity-ethical purity continuum is not an either-or in Christianity. It is not that one extreme position is more desirable than the other. The mystery of Christianity is how one balances these two concerns in everyday life. Having the right doctrine is of no value without a corresponding lifestyle. Living a Christ-like life without right teaching is equally vain.

We must rethink doctrine. Doctrine is for living. If doctrine doesn't change our life, why have doctrine? There is no innate value in affirming right things if one does not live life accordingly. We must rethink ethics. Behaviors that matter are grounded in foundations of principles and values. Right behaviors without right principles and values tend toward pragmatism. When we act, not because it is the right things to do, not because it reflects Christian principles, values, and world view, but because it "works", we have failed.

It is good to ask why we believe what we believe. It is equally good to ask why we do what we do. God demands both. God wants us to get both right--logic and living, creed and conduct, doctrine and duty, preaching and practice.

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Last updated December 28, 2010