Following Jesus versus teaching, doctrine and theology

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I sometimes find myself getting a bit annoyed. Many professing Christians that I meet these days seem to say something like: ‘I don’t bother much with doctrine, teaching and labels – I just follow Jesus’.

When you are busy studying as I often am, and especially when you find the subject of Christianity and spirituality to be vibrant and engaging, then such Christians might as well put up a brick wall between me and themselves – they effectively disengage themselves from a dynamic fellowship – certainly with me anyway. I do know something of what they mean. Sometimes an emphasis and insistence on particular doctrines and teachings can lead to disagreements, arguments and divisions. Fellowships have been acrimoniously split up by such conflicts over teaching. Other fellowships place such a strong emphasis on preaching and ‘maintaining and declaring ‘Biblical Truth’ that their worship meetings are often, in effect, long and often dry lectures proclaiming the groups orthodoxy. They end up being somewhat gloomy and depressing places – somehow losing the joy of fellowship with each other and with God. As I have looked around my local area at the different churches, some of their web sites present a ‘declaration of faith’ that is such a long statement of beliefs that it is off-putting, even when I agree with what they say! And sometimes, the more thorough and extensive the emphasis on teaching is, then the more judgmental and critical fellowship members and leaders become – constantly looking out for the slightest deviation from the teaching that they seek to uphold. So I can see why some Christians in effect shrug their shoulders and say something like: ‘I don’t bother much with doctrine, teaching and labels – I just follow Jesus’.

But what is Christianity and the Christian life based on? Its foundation is God and the person that God chose as the one to carry out a very special mission of reconciliation – Jesus. The Greek name for Jesus is ‘christos’ from which we get the name ‘Jesus Christ’ meaning ‘Jesus – the one chosen by God’. As a result, the followers of Jesus are called ‘Christians’. Your personal Christian life consists of your ongoing relationship to God through Jesus in faith.

Now, if you are following someone as a servant, or if you are obeying the orders of someone who is your lord and king – both of which are metaphors of the Christian’s relationship to Jesus – then you need to understand who your master or lord and king is – you need to know what they stand for and to be clear in your mind as to what their purpose is and particularly what their commands or orders are for you as their servant, or for you as a member of their kingdom. You need to know what your master/lord/king does for you and what your obligations and duties are to them. You cannot say ‘I am not interested in their instructions – I just love being in a relationship with them’. You cannot say ‘I am not interested in what they teach – in their theology and doctrines – I am just happy singing hymns and choruses of praise to them’. You cannot say ‘I am not interested in learning my duties or obligations – I just want to tell everyone how loving my master is’.

Today, so many people who call themselves ‘Christians’ adopt such unbiblical attitudes as these. They are sleepwalking in their spiritual lives, adopting a ‘relationship’ with an empty fantasy ‘Jesus’ of their own imagination and their own creation. They have inner inclinations – feelings, burdens, longings and impulses – to this Christian cause or that Christian charity, mission or role in the church – and they think that this is God ‘leading them by His Spirit’ in their Christian lives – when very often, such ‘guidance’ is made up of nothing more than their own mistaken superstitious thinking – immature and irrational ‘magical’ thinking – or it is nothing more than their own personal desire and ambition working deceitfully to be interpreted as the ‘leading of the Spirit’. This is nothing but psuedo-Christian Gnosticism. Such people do not want their ‘nice’ relationship with this loving ‘Jesus’ to be disturbed by teaching or doctrine, or by debates about words, concepts and ideas.

‘I know who I believe in’ they protest, ‘and I just want to follow Him!’ In this way they set up a false polarization between ‘following Jesus’ on the one hand and teaching, instruction – knowledge – on the other hand, as though these are mutually exclusive. How do they know who they believe in? ‘I don’t want to cause division over ideas, over doctrines, they are not that important – following Jesus, having a relationship with Him – that’s what is important.’ Show me a Bible passage that expresses this sentiment. The fundamental premise of having a relationship with God through Jesus is that in order to have a relationship with God through Jesus and in order to follow Jesus, you have to know who Jesus is, what he did, what he is doing now, what he asks of you and what his plans are for you.

The Christian life is based on a correct and proper knowledge and understanding of your Lord – Jesus. It is not based on some vague notion of following inner ‘Spirit-led’ feelings. The Christian life is based on God’s mighty acts through and in history coupled with a correct understanding of what these events mean and imply. The apostle Paul constantly placed emphasis on teaching, knowledge and understanding so that as Christians we are not blown about by every trendy teaching and spiritual fad that comes along. When we have a proper understanding and knowledge – then we express faith – a dedicated commitment and trust in God for the things that we understand that He has promised and which we hope for but which we do not yet see.

So sometimes I find myself getting a little annoyed because Christians are exchanging the truth for an empty lie. Right now in certain parts of the world Christian martyrs are shedding blood for their faith and their breath cries up to God while Christians here are sleeping through a semi-mystical sham of a faith.

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About Robert Laynton

Robert Laynton has a B.Sc.(Hons.) degree in psychology and was a member of the British Psychological Society, becoming a member of their Transpersonal Psychology Division and a contributor to their Journal, 'The Transpersonal Review'. He also gained a Post Graduate Certificate and Diploma in counselling. He suffers from Bipolar Affective Disorder. He likes photography, walking, listening to jazz, reading American Crime Fiction from the 40's, 50's and 60's and enjoys watching older films, especially film noir. He lives in England.
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