I like to be right. There, I said it. Not only do I like to be right about silly things like the name of a song or who was in that one movie, but I also like to be right about really big things like God. The little things come up just about every single day. Someone sings the wrong words to a song, a word is misspelled, a word is mispronounced, someone annunciates something weird, and on and on. Whenever these little moments happen, I feel this platoon of correction soldiers come alive in my brain. They all want to go into action and tell everyone how wrong they are.
There is probably a general consensus among most people that being corrected ranks up there with the most annoying things that can possibly happen to you. Nevertheless, I still feel the need to correct people. It is one of those things that I consciously make an effort not to do. There are just times when it’s not appropriate and even I can figure that out. As silly and humorous as this seems, it points to a bigger sin that lurks around in my soul and maybe yours? The sin is pride and it shows itself in smug arrogance, constant correction, and many other things.
Where it really becomes challenging is in the realm of God. Think about it, what would foster growth in a young Christian more than just telling them flat out that everything they think theologically is incredibly wrong? Oh, and it’s also really helpful to tell someone they’re wrong in front of other people. When I came to faith in Christ, I was nineteen, which meant that I already knew everything about everything, because I was nineteen for crying out loud! I was hungry to learn and grow in Christ, so combine my own tendencies towards pride and correction, with my zeal for the Lord, and my brilliance due to my age and I was a real blessing to the people around me! I don’t want to be too self-deprecating, because much of this ferocious, annoying beast that was inside of me was never really seen by others. People only saw the tip of the iceberg, but I felt the rest of it in my spirit and mind. When someone in a Bible study would start saying something that was just plain wrong, I felt it like a ball of fire preparing to explode out of my face. When we come to Christ, we start to recognize our own sinfulness more and in increasing measures.
God obviously knew all of this about me (and so much more) and yet still brought me to Himself through the work of Christ. He also doesn’t let us stay where we are at when we come to Him. Over the course of about a year and a half I had the pleasure of leading a Bible study at a homeless shelter each week beginning around 2009. We would sit out on the sidewalk on a corner of the street under a streetlight. People from the shelter would come to the study, people that came down to volunteer would come to the study, and people that were just walking along the street would sit down and join the study. Because of the very inclusive nature of the study, it drew an interesting crowd. People would frequently come intoxicated or strung out on something, which was a challenge. Also, there were just many who were young in the faith and many who really had no orthodox and/or healthy Christian background. Questions and comments came from all over the place; forget about left field. It was this experience week in and week out that God used to help me lay down my desire to constantly correct and make sure everyone said things just so.
My wife and I have a daughter who is fully in the toddler stage; she is toddling to the max (whatever that means). Right now, we are trying to work on colors with her. She has a bag of Mega Bloks, which I confess that I enjoy playing with just as much as she does. We have been trying to work on colors with those blocks. One color that she has down is purple. It is literally the cutest thing in the world to hear her say purple. However, right now, she is comfortable with just knowing purple. So when we tell her to show us a green block, she pulls out a white one and says, “purple?” When we tell her to show us a purple block, she pulls out a pink one and says, “purple?” What would not help her learn right now is to go through the entire bag of blocks telling her she is wrong about the color of each block. There is working with someone and then there is beating them down. She doesn’t need beat down, but rather an opportunity to be wrong once in a while as she learns.
The same thing goes for our growth in Christ. We need space to be wrong, to say things wrong, and sometimes to do so in a moderately public space. That is how we learn. We need to allow that space for others as they grow in Christ. That is part of discipleship. Correction is a part of discipleship, but discipleship is not just correction. There are certain things in theology for which we need to be pursuing the correct doctrine; some like to call them essentials, gospel issues, or the main things. I would consider these essentials to be those things that are captured in the historic, orthodox creeds of the Church. However, even in these things, there is a progression of understanding. As one of my mentors always says, God does not grow, but instead our understanding of Him grows.
The area where my spirit has been wrestling as of late is outside the realm of these essentials or these core Christian doctrines. Some make the things that are outside the core doctrines actually core doctrines themselves, which I believe is part of the problem. If the problem in all this is pride, then the response is humility. We should be approaching all of theology with humility, but all the more the areas that fall outside of core doctrine. For example, eschatology is an area that far too many people make a core doctrine, when I don’t think that any of the historic creeds nor the Church over the years has made all of eschatology to be core doctrine. I would say that which is part of eschatology that is core doctrine is the affirmation of a visible, physical and glorious return of Jesus, among other things like the fact that there even is an eschaton to have an ology about. However, it is the moment that we start putting the hotly-debated details of that eschaton as part of our core doctrine that we err.
Humility seems to be the engine oil that reduces friction in the Church. As we are learning and growing together, we get things wrong because we are finite, fallen creatures. Theological swordfights don’t help anyone grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Humility, grace, brotherly love and truth are the ways in which we can grow together well. Humility in our theology helps us grow and learn, helps us to let others grow and learn, and keeps the objective and absolute truth of God’s word as central.
I don’t think that this means that people cannot take a stand on a position, but there is a way to do so humbly. Pastorally, taking a stand on theological points outside of core doctrine can be a great way of shepherding the flock, but it must be done with humility. Otherwise, one simply creates a congregation full of proud, haughty theologians and the world has quite enough of those. Rarely do you ever hear a testimony where someone says that they were won to Christ through a Baptist’s trouncing of infant baptism or a Presbyterian’s lambasting of Dispensationalism. There are places and times for debate and discussion about those things, but humility must continue to be that engine oil, if you will, that permeates those conversations.
The more time that we spend as a part of a local church, the more we begin to run into these theological challenges. For some it is their life’s purpose to see that everyone around them thinks exactly like they do until there is no one left that wants to be around them. There are others on the opposite side of the spectrum who wouldn’t dare correct anyone about anything and possibly don’t even have any convictions that would fuel any kind of desired correction. The rest of us seem to fall somewhere in between all that. We encounter people that think differently than we do and we are immediately faced with the challenge of what to do with that. There is a boldness that we must have to in fact speak up for what we believe, otherwise why would we have convictions in the first place? However, there is a humility that we must all seek since it is not necessarily our opinions about objective truth that matter, but the objective truth itself.