I believe that embracing sound doctrine is a good thing, and that following false doctrine is the fast road to ruin. This message isn’t about the value of having sound doctrine but how we prioritize doctrine in our lives—particularly as beliefs come into conflict.
I have thousands of friends on Facebook; Catholics, Protestants, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Mormons, Mystics, and people of other faiths. They all have different beliefs about God, which can be called ‘doctrines’.
Many of us have been taught to separate society into two groups; one with ‘right’ doctrine, and another with ‘wrong’ doctrine. We’re told to associate only with those who have ‘right’ doctrine and avoid people with ‘wrong’ doctrine.
There’s just one problem with that notion. Jesus didn’t die to give me right doctrine. He died to give us His life. He died for people, not doctrine. And you are one of the people He died for. If He values you that highly, I ought to as well. I value people more highly than belief systems. It’s worth remembering that God isn’t a belief system. He lives outside of any belief system man ever came up with, though many have chosen to make of deity out of their belief system.
When I run into people with doctrines I don’t fully agree with, I keep in mind the fact that the things I believe about God today are different from the things I believed five years ago. And five years from now, my beliefs will be even different from today. My doctrines—the things I believe about God—are always in a state of change because He continually reveals things to me that I never knew.
So how do I deal with people I disagree with, doctrinally?
I have a couple of choices:
1) I can reject them as a person because of their doctrine. In doing so, I make doctrine more important than them. That’s not consistent with the life Jesus lived, nor the value He places on each of us.
2) I can accept their doctrine, even if it’s false.
3) I can accept them as a person—regardless of their doctrine. This is the choice I usually make when we have things in common, around which we can build a friendship.
If I find a person’s doctrine to be objectionable, I have to decide whether it’s so horribly weird that I can’t be friends with them. I’m not going to say that’s never happened—it has. But it’s extremely rare.
If I want to influence them (leadership is nothing more than influence), perhaps in the area of doctrine, I have to build a bridge of relationship with them, first. If they’re going to heed my instruction, they must first come to trust me. If I build a strong enough relationship with them over time, there may come a day when an opportunity arises where I can discuss their beliefs with them. In every case I can think of when I’ve tried to correct someone’s doctrine before establishing a relationship of trust with them, the individual rejected my views and continued believing their doctrines.
Most of the people I respect have been accused of heresy. I’ve been accused of it more times than I can remember. Some people will never accept us because of our beliefs. And that is a shame because our beliefs should never be a barrier to demonstrating love toward others.