Dogma is an Ill-Fitting Coat

15 03 2008

Three interrelated ideas are becoming clear in my mind as I reflect on the Emergent movement, our place in history, and the challenge of following Jesus with our lives:

  1. the Assemblies of God was not formed as a religious institution, but as a missions “sending” agency and a reforming influence among denominations in the area of pneumatology, or our understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in our spiritual formation and witness.
  2. As the AG has grown in numbers and status, we have developed organizational structures, financial and educational institutions which reflect our turn-of-the-20th century origins as a movement.
  3. The AG, as an institution, can be fairly characterized as a denomination which exists primarily to defend and propagate particular doctrinal positions. This is too broad a brush to paint the entire movement, and probably many pastors wrestle with fidelity to doctrine and a nuanced, intellectually honest appreciation for the complexities of orthodoxy.
Do you feel this is an accurate assessment? How does it affect our ability to build meaningful friendships with Christians outside our tent, and for that matter, pre (or post) Christians?
In what other ways does our doctrine-based affiliation color our practice as followers of Jesus, particularly when we come in contact with the Other? Do doctrinal differences preclude us from generative friendship with others?
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2 responses

15 03 2008
Glen Davis

Differences in doctrine in and of themselves don’t preclude friendship. If they did, no two people would ever become friends. Everyone differs with each other person else on at least a few points.

Being obnoxious about differences does hinder friendship. It’s okay to say, “this is what I believe and here’s why I think it’s the best perspective to adopt” and even to talk about how important a particular belief is.

Where we have historically made missteps in the Assemblies is in mistaking the importance of a belief and making a bigger deal out of it than we needed to – and thereby needlessly hindering relationships. I don’t think that’s as endemic today as it used to be, but I’m open to persuasion on that point.

15 03 2008
johnohara

I suppose your argument that doctrinal purity isn’t as front-and-center as it once was, depends on how far you’re willing to stray from modern evangelical moorings… on the one hand, we may applaud corporately when we see an AG/COGIC partnership, or even collaboration with non-pentecostal Christians; but what about Catholics? Buddhists? LGBT Clubs?

I recently heard a missionary to Europe make a point to announce that much of his work is invested toward the conversion of Roman Catholics, who in his words are “non-believers.”

I agree with you on your point that it’s healthy to engage in healthy conversations about our differences – I think you were implying that this is a natural course for friendship to develop, the open and free exchange of ideas and perspectives.

I’m afraid that when we major on the “What” of Christianity, we obscure the “Whom” of Jesus and lose opportunity to grow in relationship with others.

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