What is more significant to a meaningful Christian life, doctrine or relationships? Which is more important to our growth as Christians and our ability to live for God?
Christian culture is struggling a little bit right now. There is a movement afoot known as the emergent church movement. That movement is much more interested in community than it is in doctrine. The central focus is on living lives in community and participating in the community of faith; they are very attracted to the life of Jesus in the gospels and in the narrative of the story. They are immensely dissatisfied with the lifestyle of the established church, and see the church as not being God’s agent in the world effectively.
This movement has been widely critiqued in more conservative evangelical Christian circles. The main critique has nothing to do with the practice of the emergent church or their focus on community. Instead, detractors see within the movement serious doctrinal issues that compromise the message. They have sounded the warning that this movement has placed experience ahead of truth. This compromise, opponents say, changes the message and compromises the truth of God, which leads to nothing but heresy and judgment.
This debate came home to roost in my life on Sunday morning. In case you missed it, the dad I adopted as an adult died on Saturday. I did okay with it on Saturday afternoon (or perhaps I needed to hold it together to attend a wedding reception and make plans to go see mom…), but Sunday morning I woke up very sad. The reality hit me that dad was gone, and I was a mess.
Bear with me on this one. I am going somewhere.
The debate between traditional and emergent church movements is whether doctrine or community is more important. In other words, is truth more important than community, or is the community of saints a higher mandate than doctrine? Which is more important to help people live authentic, biblical Christian lives? (I am assuming that leaders in both camps seek to help people know Christ, grow in Him, and serve Him) Do people need a theological education more, or do they need a faith community where they can serve God and experience Him more?
I wondered the same in my grieving this weekend. Some Christians believe that understanding God’s truth is the most important aspect of dealing with death. Dad knew Christ; Saturday was the best day he ever had. We rest in the truth that God welcomed dad with open arms and brought him home. Some even go so far as to say that not resting in that truth (perhaps in the form of excessive grief) evidences a lack of trust in God.
Others think that the grief is paramount, and the only way to process the loss of a loved one is to have other loved ones there to grieve with you. Recognizing that you are not alone and having others there to grieve with you and support you in your loss are key.
(Okay, here is where I might get in trouble…)
The reality I experienced this weekend was that neither was enough on its own.
I preached from Luke 10 this Sunday, and when I came to Luke 10:20 I talked about resting in the truth of God that dad’s name was written in the book of life. Without that truth, dad’s loss was permanent. If there is no future for him with Christ, then I don’t know what I would think. Knowing the truth of eternal life for all who know Jesus Christ has been so amazingly critical in my grieving. I have hope, knowing that dad isn’t gone forever. I will see him again, whole and complete in heaven. Without that I would have been in despair.
Then again, I cried several times as I preached. The truth alone did not comfort me in my loss, as much as I knew it to be true. I know that material backward and forward, and am completely committed to the truth of John 3:16. All who trust Christ have eternal life; of this I am sure. Even so, I was so sad on Sunday. The truth was important, but my emotions were still raw and my pain real.
Community was just as important as truth. Our good friends (who brought us to our church) who are church-shopping came to WG this Sunday to be there with us and give us comfort. All morning friends who knew what had happened came and gave me hugs. They spoke love into my life and wept with me, like Romans 12:15 tells us to. My good friend Ryan came forward during the final song of our worship service on Sunday and prayed with me. Then he asked the church to come and pray over our family. Kara opened the gates of heaven with her prayer as my whole family in Christ laid hands on Laura and Elizabeth and me in prayer.
It was immensely comforting to have that community that was rooted in the truth of God and praying over us knowing that dad was at home. It was amazing to have so many people ask if they could help us. Friends called to offer condolences. That was as important as anything else, helping me cry some, and talk about dad, and hurt in a safe place.
So the debate, in my experience, is misplaced. Doctrine is incredibly significant. So is community. Doctrine without community is cold, dead creedalism. Community without truth gives no lasting hope and has no answers that can help. Only together did I find true solace. The word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God all worked together to help me sort through my heart and mind this week.
That is why I am committed to knowing God’s truth and living my life in a community that does the same and lifts one another up. I exist to know Jesus Christ, to grow in Him, to serve Him, and to help others do the same. Truth in community. That’s what we see in the first church in Acts 2:42, with their focus on the teaching of the Apostles and to community life in fellowship.
I would love your thoughts. How do you experience grief, and what do you find most important? Is truth more significant to you or community?