March Week 2014 delegates: Reaching what you believe to be wise conclusions on the questions you’re considering is great. But don’t heap error upon error and proceed to bind your opinions, no matter how wise you think they are, on others. This is no different than the Pharisees “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”

doc·trine:

  • a set of ideas or beliefs that are taught or believed to be true
  • teaching, instruction
  • something that is taught

Perhaps it’s time to consider the Bible’s doctrine on doctrine. Before we can teach anything, we should give thought to what can and can’t be taught, right? What the Bible teaches about teaching should be what we teach about teaching, should it not?

“Doctrine” as used in the Bible is just a synonym for “teaching.” There is no separate meaning of “doctrine” as distinguished from “teaching” or “judgment.” Whenever something is taught, whether that’s a private opinion or supposed “judgment” of the church, it is a doctrine. The fact that it’s taught is what makes it a doctrine, not the fact that it was run up the flagpole and approved by superiors at a previous May/March Week.

Of course, the corollary of this is that any doctrines that have been taught in error–whether personal opinions or “judgments”–were erroneous doctrines. If they were taught by someone who wasn’t fully convinced of their veracity, then I believe that is the Biblical definition of “false teaching,” which is “disingenuous teaching.” Even more problematic for the church is the inevitable conclusion that the church, via its various spokespersons through the years, has in fact taught certain false (incorrect) doctrines. To argue that it hasn’t, is to argue for the infallibility of the church on those doctrines, which I don’t believe anyone is prepared to defend.

So what is the proper Biblical teaching about teaching? The meeting’s stated goals can be spun all they want to put lipstick on the pig, but it seems that any fair analysis would conclude that May/March Week is really about individuals discussing their private opinions, and bringing them back to the local congregations with the expectation that they will be adopted as the new “official doctrines.”

This line between private and “official” doctrine is not really Biblically supported, though. I believe there is no such thing as “official church doctrine,” Biblically speaking. We only have personal opinions–i.e. the beliefs we personally hold, as we individually understand them–and we are individually accountable for their truth and merit. We can’t slip responsibility for the veracity of what we believe or teach to “the church,” or “tradition,” or “our teachers,” or “May Week 1986.” Our opinions are ours alone, and if we choose to teach them, the buck stops there.

Because private opinions are fallible, they have no guarantee of being true. They may be true, of course, but they may not be. We arrive at various conclusions in life by adding to our knowledge, experience and maturity–physically, intellectually and spiritually.

This is a really important point. Since our opinions change throughout our lifetime (at least they should, if we are growing intellectually and spiritually), we can know that our private opinions have not always been true. We can therefore project into the future with a high degree of certainty that our opinions will never be 100% true. As long as we are encased in human flesh, we are likely to hold incorrect opinions.

However, each of us obviously believes that the opinions we currently hold true right now are in fact true, or we wouldn’t believe them. What are we to make of these two seemingly contradictory conclusions? We know we’re wrong on some things, but we’re not certain which things are wrong. We also believe and teach those things we think we’re right on.

What we need, then, is a proper sense of humility. We should not think so highly of our own opinions, believing them so strongly to be true that we take outlandish risks and preach them as if they were proven, verifiable fact. We have to acknowledge the possibility that we may grow in our opinions next week, next month, next year, or ten years from now, as long as we are not speaking infallibly directly from the Holy Spirit (and I know no one in the church who claims this).

We may have numerous logical or interpretational roadblocks in our path to apprehending what is actually true on a particular point, and this is true whether one has the Holy Spirit or not. As evidence, we just need to look at the sect’s history and see a series of many changed doctrines and opinions over time. These same people are believed to have had the Holy Spirit, so how did they arrive at different conclusions in 1978 vs. 1998? Because they’re human, that’s why.

Our opinions should not be forced on other people as a condition of fellowship. What my conscience allows or does not allow is not my job to enforce on my brothers. We can hold opinions, of course, but we must hold them as our own private property, as Alexander Campbell once said.

So at what point do our private opinions become doctrines? They become doctrines precisely at the time we teach them. This is true whether the “church” agreed that this opinion is the correct doctrine, or whether outside counsel was sought and approved it. The minute I take my opinion on, shall we say, whether a Christian may share a prescription contrary to the laws of the land, and teach it as the “official doctrine” of the church circa March Week 2014, I have made my opinions into my doctrine.

Instead, what Christians ought to do more of is share their opinions for the consideration and investigation of their brothers, and let their own consciences apprehend their truth (or not). “Let every man be convinced in his own mind,” right? But as soon as they go about teaching it, they are “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”

The reality is that we may believe our opinions are true with all our heart, but that doesn’t make them true or infallible. The whole concept of “official church doctrines” is impossible to define without making a creed of some sort, whether that’s a written statement of faith, or a body of “official thought” that is passed down verbally through teachers, evangelists, and May/March Weeks.

Does the church have a creed–a body of “official doctrines” outside of the Bible alone? I would suggest it does. It is embodied in 45 years of tape recordings, notes, May/March Week conclusions, judgements, and teachers’ counsel. It is, therefore, a house of cards:

Matthew 15:9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.

Colossians 2:22 – These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.

It’s much better to build our doctrines on a solid foundation of the Bible alone. We’ve always told other religious organizations to do that. Stanton, remember the Suitcase of Books?