I read an interesting quote today from Alastair McGrath which read, “The general phenomenon of ‘doctrine’ – although not specific doctrines – is linked with the perceived need for social definition, especially when other factors do not adequately define the group.”
I find this interesting because it places the general notion of doctrine within the scope of social creation. In other words, doctrine is something which is created by people but understood as being given/revealed by God. Not that McGrath is saying God is outside of this process, but that man has organized these concepts and ideas into the framework that makes sense to us. Doctrine, in that sense, is how we make sense of revelation, how we understand and sort what God is communicating to us.
That being said, doctrine then becomes a communal expression of belief rather than individual and as such cannot be limited to a singular set of ideas, given that there can be no true unanimity among any specific group if people. What happens when we ask a Pentecostal and Catholic about orthodoxy concerning Mary or a Baptist and an Episcopalian about the grace inherent in the sacrament of baptism? Doctrine, like orthodoxy, is at that juncture whatever the majority decides it to be.
Which begs the question: what is truly heretical when religious history, like all other forms, is written by the victor?
A good example of this is the Arian controversy of 325 CE. At the time, Arius may have had as many supporters for his perspective as did Alexander and Athanasius, so why did the First Council of Nicea condemn the priest from Alexandria? Ultimately, because the Alexanderian coalition at the Council of Nicea, with the emperor Constantine’s backing and blessing, decided that Arius interpretation was wrong, giving rise to the Nicene Creed in it’s present form.
While this is far from a thorough examination and really more of a thought teaser, it does bring up and hopefully begin dialogue on what the criteria should be for the acceptance of doctrine. Is it good doctrine to blindly accept the established position on a particular matter without questioning how it came to be the established position? Is it a matter of accepting the predominate opinion on the teachings contained in a book (the Bible) compiled by men who may or may not have had the most noble of intentions? If not, what is the alternative that allows for faith in God without having to acquiesce to belief in the Bible?
My intention is to answer each of these questions one at a time and to continue to develop this particular post with the hopes of finding a deeper faith.
Grace & Peace