Putting doctrine to the test

United Methodist doctrine and beliefs are means of holy living, not guidelines for identifying heretics. The primary purpose of beliefs is evangelization and the formation of Christian disciples, not determining who is inside the acceptable parameters of orthodoxy. The authenticity of beliefs lies in their ability to shape persons and communities into the image of Christ and promote holiness and happiness. Do they promote love for God and neighbor? This is an important Wesleyan test for doctrines and beliefs.

(Kenneth L. Carder, Living our Beliefs: The United Methodist Way, pp. v-vi.)

Dr. Carder reflects my understanding of John Wesley’s view on doctrine. His practical divinity tested doctrine and practice by their effects on the holiness of Christians.

Which makes me wonder what it would mean to actually follow this rule.

Do we judge our doctrine by the effect of preaching it and teaching it on the holiness of those who hear it? Do we judge our practices and programs on the same basis? Would we even know how to do so?

My embrace of John Wesley’s attitude toward doctrine should not be half-hearted. If I cheer when he writes that doctrine is not measure of true religion, I should probably listen up when he – like Carder – says we need to judge our doctrine by its effects on the holiness of Christians.

It was this effect that caused him to preach the classic evangelical message of sin, repentance, blood atonement, grace, faith, and holiness. He saw this message being used by the Holy Spirit to convict, convert, and sanctify people.

It is often argued – on theological, philosophical, and socio-cultural grounds – that Wesley’s views of sin and salvation do not work or are not relevant today.

How can we test that claim with this Wesleyan way of testing?

How do we know that a certain doctrine does or does not lead to an increase of holiness?

3 thoughts on “Putting doctrine to the test

  1. The quote begins well but loses me on the third sentence:

    The authenticity of beliefs lies in their ability to shape persons and communities into the image of Christ and promote holiness and happiness.

    Wrong. Pragmatism has its place but the real question is are our beliefs consistent with what the Bible says. I hope that the distinction I am making is covered somewhere else outside of the quote. One of the problems presented by post-modernism and its followers is that they reject absolute truth. Truth may have complicated applications but truth itself does not change.

    Grace and Peace

    1. I believe both Dr. Carder and Rev. Wesley would agree that all doctrine must be grounded in Scripture. That is the background assumption behind the quote.

  2. You ask: “Do we judge our doctrine by the effect of preaching it and teaching it on the holiness of those who hear it? Do we judge our practices and programs on the same basis? Would we even know how to do so?”

    I believe that we know how to do so…yes. But I wonder how to structure things to judge our practices and programs on this? When I was going through ordination I remember when writing about justification for the Board of Ordained Ministry I spelled out some very specific sets of practices that I thought would be consistent with the Methodist understanding of justification. I remember that causing a bit of consternation. I think we are more used to having our doctrine as hermetically sealed as the communion bread at Annual Conference. But I believe that we really want to be guided by those doctrines. I don’t believe that we have a practice that puts our practices and programs under such a microscope. Even more to the point, from my perspective, is whether we do that in the lives and work of the people of our parishes. I really enjoy it (and I think most of my parishioners do – though I could really be reading this wrong) – when we sit in their homes and talk about how justification and sanctification play out in their lives and work. I just wish there were more hours in the day. But I hear amazing stories of the way people see it. And it reminds me that the most important work that I have as a pastor is entirely unnecessary (who “NEEDS” to go talk with someone about justification or sanctification)…but is, I don’t know, I guess – wonderful. Cool. And I can’t imagine that I actually get paid to do it. Aah.

    But I do think that those conversations (and I need to take some responsibility for this) could also happen with district superintendents and other conference leaders…

    Thanks,
    mike

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