Eleven different ways of experiencing Christianity—Part 3
There are many ways of seeing yourself as a Christian. You can add another as your faith grows, you can have more than one at a time and you can move through them over some time.
I am going to look at this through Advent this year. None of them is wrong when taken in context with the others; all of them are wrong on their own. The list is not exhaustive.
As a set of things you believe
There are a lot of things within Christianity that can be used as doctrinal statements from the ten Commandments in the Old Testament (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5) through to the Beatitudes, part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:1-12.
Others look toward the creeds, especially the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed, ancient statements about the faith of the church. The Church of England, the denomination where I worship, has its own doctrinal statement, the 39 Articles of Religion, which it has held as a standard of belief since 1562 and can be found in the Book of Common Prayer. Other denominations have similar statements.
It is hard these days to visit a church website without coming across their statement of belief. In Holy Trinity Huddersfield we have our own statement, under Our Vision and Our Values, to give an idea of who we are and what we mean to be doing.
Doctrine should not be thought about as old or archaic. Doctrine and doctrinal statements are supposed to help the church in its mission. Here is a list of some of the things doctrine should do:
- Connect the church to its historical Christian roots,
- Teach believers how to think about God and His redeeming work.
- Shape values and priorities of daily church ministry.
- Develop lifestyle habits for individual Christians.
- Impress essential beliefs upon the next generation.
- Build a framework for unity among church members.
- Inform believers how to think and engage theologically in the public square.
- Clarify church beliefs for the general public.
It’s all about Jesus
Christianity is all about Jesus Christ, that’s where the name comes from. Doctrinal statements are a very good thing if used in the right way, to help build up people’s faith in Jesus Christ and help members of a congregation be one. If they are used to subjugate people then it is not helpful and in extreme cases can be abusive. Be very careful of the dogma of your doctrine.
Another thing doctrine cannot do is give people a relationship with God. We are supposed to be in a close relationship with God and one of the things Jesus achieved in his coming to earth, dying, being raised from the dead and ascending to heaven is to break down the barriers that prevent people from communing with God.
Doctrine is very necessary, it informs us and others of who we are and what we are about, but it does not bring us close to God.