Updated: May 5
Have you ever been the victim of a vicious rumor? When I was working at camp during my college years, I remember being called into the director’s office one evening. Apparently, he had been informed by another staff member that I had been seen making out with my girlfriend up near the horse barn the night before. I assured him that I had been nowhere near the reported area at the given time, though I did let him know that the activities I was accused of participating in sounded like a lot of fun.
I’ve been pretty lucky that in my life I have never been, to my knowledge, the victim of anything too nefarious when it comes to gossip. However, during my time as a youth pastor there were a few occasions where I learned that people from some of the neighboring churches were spreading rumors about what I was doing in order to keep teens from attending our events. I also learned that a fellow pastor had a part in spreading these ideas, and that he had expressly forbidden his youth pastor to have anything to do with our youth group. Now, I can’t speak to his motives, and the rumors had little impact on what God was doing through our church. However, it was frustrating to know that there were people out there who held false beliefs about me and what I was doing, and that it was preventing teens from being able to connect with our community, and possibly with God.
Think about your own experience. Perhaps there was a time your integrity was called into question. Maybe you were said to have been the origin of some hurtful gossip about someone else. Or there could be misinformation about where you’ve been sexually. It’s frustrating to be misunderstood, to have others believe false information about us. It hurts, especially when it leads to broken relationships.
In the beginning Adam, Eve, and God all hung out together. While not expressly stated, the biblical narrative seems to indicate that God had a habit of coming to spend time with them on a regular basis. It was His choice. He loved them and wanted to be a part of their lives. But then, a rumor was introduced. The serpent convinced Eve that God was holding out on her. She believed that God didn’t really have her best interest in mind, and the relationship was broken. From that point on, the lies about God gradually grew as they were passed on from person to person, down through the generations. God doesn’t care about you. He’s mad at you. He hates people who disagree with Him. He doesn’t want you to have any fun. He creates suffering to teach you a lesson. He is indifferent.
There’s this thing called doctrine which has become a bad word to many in the Christian world. And let’s face it, Christians have created some problems with it in the past. Wars have been started over doctrine. People have been executed because of these differences of opinion. Families split apart, friendships and marriages severed. We’ve created lists of things that one must agree with in order to be saved, to be worthy of being a part of our club.
I think a lot of the doctrinal abuse people have suffered is the result of a misunderstanding of what doctrine is for. For many, doctrine has become another list that must be kept to earn God’s favor. This allows us to utilize it a means of measuring, deciding who is in and who is out. Our focus changes from being on our relationship with God and other people, to obtaining the correct facts.
However, if our salvation is a free gift not based on our actions, then this view of doctrine doesn’t make any sense. Instead of earning anything through facts like some epic Bible Bowl, doctrine essentially is a means of squelching rumors about God. Think about it, this whole thing was started by a rumor, which has grown and evolved over generations. "God is vindictive." "He only cares about Himself and whether or not you measure up to His standard of perfection." Or maybe, "He is indifferent to your existence." These rumors have led to broken relationships, and in more extreme cases, to people committing terrible atrocities in God’s name. For a God who loves you more than you can comprehend, this is both painful and frustrating.
John 20:31 states, “these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” Doctrine shows us who God really is. When we understand His love for us and the grace He has offered us, we are much more likely to accept His gift. When our doctrine is skewed, it doesn’t make God mad at us. We can still respond to His grace. We can still be saved. But this process may be more difficult if we are operating with faulty information. The more truth we have about God, the more we are attracted to Him. The more we desire a relationship, a friendship with our creator.
Not only are we drawn into a relationship with God ourselves, but we also want to refute the lies that are being spread about Him. This totally makes sense with our human relationships. We gladly defend the honor of those we care about when we hear people sharing lies about them. Teaching doctrine is simply about helping people understand who God is so they will respond to him. We restore God’s reputation when we teach the truth about Him, and at the same time the truth sets us free from the lies we have believed about ourselves. Every point of doctrine is about helping us understand one thing. The Creator of the universe loves you so much, that He gave His only Son as a sacrifice so that He could have a chance to live with you forever. That is THE TRUTH, and anyone telling you otherwise is simply spreading rumors.
Have you ever been the victim of a damaging rumor? If so how did you feel? What was your response? Do you think God has an emotional response to the "rumors" spread about Him? If so, what do you think it is? When you hear the word "Doctrine" what thought comes to mind? Have you ever been the victim of "Doctrinal Abuse" where the argument over doctrine damaged your faith? Do you feel Doctrine is important? Why or why not? How frequently do you look at why you believe what you believe? Does it make you uncomfortable when your doctrine is challenged? Do you think that having "good doctrine" helps you be saved? Why or why not? What are some of the most damaging "rumors" spread about God? How do we as Christians go about addressing these "rumors" without alienating people? What do each of the doctrinal statements that you believe in teach you about God?