Often we clarify our convictions hoping to strengthen unity—“Here is what I believe… Who’s with me?” But what if a doctrine becomes destructive or divisive not because of what it is, but because of how we hold it? Isn’t it true that right doctrine can be held even by the enemies of the Lord (James 2:19)? It seems the real danger is not only in the belief of a false doctrine but in the heart of the one who believes it. We seek to determine whether or not something is an open-handed conviction or a close-handed conviction, which is wise, but I think the more important concern is whether or not the conviction is held with humility. Having the right answers is good, but humility is better.
Developing a general hierarchy of convictions (e.g. a theological triage) is perhaps a necessity for healthy co-laboring among leaders, but we’d be remiss to not also consider the inherent dangers of prioritizing doctrine. We are prone to make idols of everything. The disagreements we have over secondary and tertiary things may become fodder for arrogance by which “those other folks” are held at a distance in suspicion. Anxious and afraid in the world, we are often tempted to find comfort and confidence in our personal convictions and behaviors. With tribal tendencies, we band together with those like-minded to cherish, and inevitably elevate, our particular convictions and behaviors over others. In these tribes, we’re often known for how we love our doctrine and methods more than how we love our siblings.
If you find yourself eager for examples of said convictions and behaviors, perhaps you’re missing the point. Bonds are being formed based on what we think we know, rather than Who we know. This fractures the body and grieves the Lord. I believe it should grieve us as well. Whatever our convictions and actions are, I wonder, are we proud of them?
Humility breeds unity.
Forming tribes around doctrine is at least partially motivated by a desire to limit suffering and maximize comfort. There is good reason to work with those who share convictions; however, it also seems we often give undue weight to our lesser convictions because of our tribal codependence. Whether it’s in fear of being wrong, a desire to belong, or the result of some other vanity, we become dogmatic about tribal doctrine. Habitually, though perhaps sincerely seeking to worship Jesus and cultivate unity, we make idols of our ideas. Isolated and insulated, we are left to pedestal our own perspectives and interpretations and call it biblical fidelity. This is tragically divisive and destructive, and it’s also reminiscent of Israel’s woes throughout the Old Testament narrative.
So what do we do? Like Israel, we need a King, but doctrine is not a worthy king. We must submit everything to King Jesus. If we truly love the Lord more than our knowledge—humbly listening and patiently trusting Him—the mission of God would flourish as we are built up (1 Cor. 8:1). We need His grace, and when we are humble, He gives it. Indeed, if we are not humble, He will oppose us. By His grace we’re freed to truly love one another—humbly listing and patiently trusting each other. In love we have unity. When we, instead, plot together to establish our own kingdoms, it’s laughable to the Lord who has appointed the King of kings (Psalm 2:4-6). So whatever our hierarchy of doctrine, we must maintain that King Jesus is alone at the top, and as we fix our eyes on Him, we will run this race together.
Humility unleashes missionaries.
Our mission with Jesus can only be as great as our submission to the power of Jesus. Too easily we’re caught up in strategizing, which ought to be done or we are consumed by building structures, which are necessary, but we neglect trusting the supernatural. We become dependent on our efforts and what we think we know. We are persuaded and determined to manufacture fruitfulness in ministry rather than walk in faithfulness. But, we are freed from the pressure to produce and the fear of failing when we walk in humility.
Jesus shows us true freedom is found in humble submission and through intimate relationships. Like Jesus and through Jesus, we can know what our Father wants and what He’s doing (John 5:19-20). Rest in that reality—it’s amazingly freeing. We are made in God’s image, but we must not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped. Unity comes as we count others more significant than ourselves (Phil. 2:1-6).
We must have practices of seeing, knowing, and trusting our siblings in the faith. Appreciate the diversity. We know the Bible better together. We are more like Jesus when we are together. We better see and comprehend our context when we are together. We are certain to be better and more fruitful on mission when we are together.
If we become overly fixated on our understanding and interpretation of God, His Word, or His purposes, we’re in danger of destroying unity and neglecting the mission. We’re determined to be right instead of trusting His righteousness. Whatever convictions we hold, and however we hold them, I pray we have humility for the sake of the mission and to the glory of our King.